Heart failure can be an overwhelming event to experience. If you or someone you love is at risk of heart failure, you probably have more questions than answers. The right information can give you a better understanding of the condition so you can seek out the appropriate help and resources. To get you started, here are answers to six of the most commonly asked heart failure questions, starting with the most commonly asked.
1. What Is Heart Failure?
Heart failure doesn't mean the heart has completely stopped working. Rather that it doesn't function as well as it should. Sometimes known as congestive heart failure (CHF), it's a chronic, progressive condition in which, over the course of time, the heart muscles become too weak to pump enough oxygen-rich blood to meet the body's needs.
2. OK So, What Is Heart Disease?
Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, describes a wide range of conditions that affect the heart. These include high blood pressure, rheumatic heart disease, chest pain, heart rhythm problems, stroke, coronary heart disease, congenital heart defects and others.
Over time, certain heart diseases cause your heart to become too weak or stiff to fill and pump blood efficiently, leading to heart failure. Reducing your risk of heart disease can help reduce your risk of heart failure.
3. What Are the Symptoms of Heart Failure?
When a person develops heart failure, the heart and body try to compensate for the lack of blood flow. The heart may enlarge and pump faster, blood vessels in the body may narrow to keep blood pressure up and the body may divert blood away from less vital organs to preserve blood flow to the heart and brain.
During this time, you may not have any symptoms. Eventually, though, these compensating measures won't be enough. These are some of the symptoms that could follow:
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue and weakness
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet
- A persistent cough, especially at night
- Coughing up pink, foamy mucus
- Lack of appetite, chronic indigestion and nausea
- Weight gain due to excess fluid
- Increased need to urinate at night
- Swollen abdomen
- Difficulty concentrating
- Chest pain
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should call a healthcare professional right away.
4. What Causes Heart Failure?
Any heart condition that damages or weakens your heart can cause heart failure. The most common causes of heart failure are cardiovascular diseases — coronary artery disease and heart attack, according to an ASSOCHAM and Deloitte study. Sometimes, however, the cause is unknown.
Other conditions known to cause or increase the risk of heart failure, include:
- High blood pressure
- Faulty heart valves
- Heart muscle disease or inflammation
- Congenital heart diseases
- Severe lung disease
- Sleep apnea
5. How Is Heart Failure Diagnosed?
Because the onset of heart failure may not produce noticeable symptoms, regular checkups with the doctor are important for catching the condition early.
Many hospitals have a procedure for diagnosis that starts with an appointment for suspected heart failure. The doctor will likely take a complete medical history, check for risk factors, review your symptoms and perform a physical examination. They can typically make a tentative diagnosis by using a stethoscope to listen for the presence of fluid in your chest and abnormal heart sounds.
Based on a physical exam, your doctor may order additional diagnostic tests and procedures to confirm their diagnosis and determine the best treatment options. The American Heart Association lists the most common tests for heart failure as:
- Blood tests
- Chest X-ray
- Exercise stress test
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Cardiac catheterization
- Radionuclide ventriculography
Early diagnosis and treatment may help your symptoms and prevent further damage to your heart, so make regular appointments with your doctor.
6. How Do You Treat Heart Failure?
Think of it as wear and tear of essential machinery, you need to tend to the machinery, not weaken it further and consider its state to make it last longer. The primary goals of treatment are to improve your symptoms and quality of life and to slow disease progression by easing the workload of your heart. Your doctor may prescribe a combination of the following, notes the American Heart Association:
- Lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet and being physically active
- Medication, such as a diuretic, beta blocker, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, vasodilator or calcium channel blocker
- Medical device implantation, such as an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), left ventricular assist device (LVAD) or cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT)
In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery, such as percutaneous coronary intervention, coronary artery bypass or heart valve repair or replacement to correct an underlying problem. With treatment, many people with heart failure can continue to live full and productive lives.
If you have any questions, don't be afraid to speak up and ask: What is heart failure and how do I treat it? Working closely with your healthcare team, you can take the necessary proactive measures to prevent or manage heart failure and live your best possible life.
Disclaimer: This content is meant for awareness and educational purposes and does not constitute or imply an endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation of any products. Please consult your doctor or healthcare practitioner before starting any diet, medication or exercise.