Heart failure does not necessarily mean that the heart has stopped or is about to stop working. Heart Failure also known as congestive heart failure is a condition when the heart does not pump enough blood around to meet the body’s need. Both the sides or just one side of the heart can be affected by this condition. Symptoms will depend on which side is affected and how severe the heart failure is – symptoms can be severe.
Common causes of heart failure are:
- Coronary artery disease & heart attack
- High blood pressure (Hypertension)
Heart failure can also be caused by:
- Heart valve problems
- Alcohol or recreational drugs
- An uncontrolled irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
- Congenital heart conditions
- A viral infection affecting the heart muscle
- Some cancer treatments.
Men above the age of 65 have a higher rate of heart failure than women.
Symptoms Of Heart Failure:
- Shortness of breath – when you are being active or at rest
- Swelling – of your feet, ankles, stomach and lower back areas
- Fatigue – feeling unusually tired or weak
Symptoms occur because the heart does not have enough strength to pump blood all the way round the body efficiently. This can cause fluid to pool in the feet and legs. If this fluid is left unmanaged, it can build and spread to your stomach area and sit beneath your lungs. This reduces their ability to expand and makes you short of breath.
Symptoms on the left side of the body:
- Breathlessness, panting (dyspnea) – this may happen at any time, but will be more noticeable or acute when the patient is active or lying down. Patients at night will often need to sit up in bed or have an urge to get some fresh air.
- Frothy spit (with the cough)
Symptoms on the right side of the body:
- Swollen ankles
- Swollen legs
- Enlarged liver
- Enlarged stomach
Symptoms on both sides of the body:
- Dizziness and/or confusion – as levels of sodium and other substances in the blood change the patient is much more likely to experience confusion, and also dizziness.
- Loss of appetite – as the digestive system receives less blood the patient experiences problems with digestion and appetite.
Diagnosis of Heart Failure
- Blood and urine tests – these will check the patient’s blood count and liver, thyroid, and kidney function. The doctor may also want to check the blood for specific chemical markers of heart failure, such as BNP (brain natriuretic peptide) – this hormone is secreted at high levels by the heart if it is injured or overburdened, but is first identified in the brain.
- Chest X-ray – an X-ray will show whether the heart is enlarged. It will also show whether there is fluid in the lungs. Other conditions other than heart failure which may have similar signs and symptoms may be detected with a chest X-ray.
- An ECG (electrocardiogram) – this device records the electrical activity and rhythms of the patient’s heart. Electrodes are attached to the patient’s skin and impulses are recorded as waves and displayed on a screen (or printed on paper). The test may also reveal any damage to the heart from a heart attack. Heart attacks are often the underlying cause of heart failure.
- An echocardiogram – this is an ultrasound scan that checks the pumping action of the patient’s heart. This test also helps distinguish systolic heart failure from diastolic heart failure (the heart is stiff and does not fill properly). Sound waves are used to create a video image of the patient’s heart, which helps the doctor see how well the heart is pumping. The doctor measures the percentage of blood pumped out of the patient’s left ventricle (the main pumping chamber) with each heartbeat – this measurement is call the ejection fraction.
- An ejection fraction is a crucial measurement which determines how well the heart is pumping. It is used to help classify heart failure and determine the best treatment. A healthy heart pumps out approximately 60% of the blood that fills the ventricle with each beat – a healthy heart has an ejection factor of 60%.
The doctor may also carry out the following additional tests:
- Stress test
- Cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scan
- Angiogram (coronary catheterization)
Treatment Of Heart Failure
A combination of medication and lifestyle changes will hopefully help you continue to do the things you enjoy, by helping you manage your symptoms and keeping your condition as stable as possible. For most people, the treatment of heart failure involves a balance of the right medications and, in some cases, use of devices that help the heart beat and contract properly.