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Heart Failure: Medical Information on Causes, Diagnosis, Symptoms and Treatment

heart-problems-and-heart-failureImportant Answers about Heart Failure

  • Heart Failure Overview
  • Who Is Affected?
  • Heart Failure Classifications
  • Left-Sided Heart Failure
  • Right-Sided Heart Failure
  • Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
  • Treating Heart Failure
  • Make Changes in Lifestyle Choices

Heart Failure

Heart Failure Overview

Congestive Heart Failure, or heart failure, is a condition that requires immediate medical attention when the heart pumping action to deliver oxygenated blood to the body’s cells is compromised. A failure often involves a weakened heart that can no longer supply adequate blood to the cells. Typically, the health condition produces a shortness of breath and fatigue. In some cases, the individual coughs excessively. Walking, climbing stairs and other everyday activities can become extremely challenging.

Because the heart cannot keep up with its workload demand in supplying the body with oxygen-rich and nutrient-rich blood, it attempts to compensate the failure by:

  • Enlarging – The natural reaction of the heart’s inability to meet its workload demand is to enlarge the heart chamber, causing it to stretch and strongly contract to pump greater volumes of blood. Once the heart becomes enlarged, the body begins retaining fluid, the lungs become congested with fluid and the heart will eventually start beating irregularly.
  • Developing More Muscle Mass – When the heart’s contracting cells become bigger, more muscle mass begins to develop. At first, the heart muscle can begin to pump stronger until conditions change.
  • Increasing Heart Beat Rate – Increasing the number of beats per minute can rise the blood flow output of the heart.
  • Narrowing Blood Vessels – The body also makes adjustments by narrowing blood vessels to increase blood pressure in an attempt to help the heart in its workload demands.
  • Diverting Blood Away – The body will also divert blood from reaching less important organs and tissues to maximize oxygen input to the brain and heart.

Unfortunately, every one of these temporary measures lacks the capacity to circumvent the actual problems associated with heart failure. Even though the heart still functions, the heart failing condition continues and eventually becomes significantly worse until one or every substituting process fails to help any longer.

Eventually, the body will have no other option available to maintain the workload demand void created by the heart and instead develop breathing problems, fatigue or other heart failure symptoms that will continue until one or more affected treatments are utilized.

These natural compensation mechanisms happen automatically, meaning many individuals are not aware that they are suffering a heart failure condition until many years after the decline of their heart health begins. While heart failure will often initially only affect the left side of the heart, it does have the potential of starting on the right side, left side or both.

Who Is Affected?

Statistics released by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reveal that approximately 5.7 million Americans suffer from heart failure. In 2009, the condition was the contributing cause to one out of nine deaths. Research statistics reveal that approximately 50 percent of all individuals who develop heart failure will die from the condition within five years after their diagnosis. Additionally, heart failure is more prevalent in the lower Midwest states compared other areas in the US.

The highest prevalence of congestive heart failure occurs in individuals 70 years and older (10 percent) followed by individuals between 60 and 69 years of age (five percent) and men and women between 40 and 59 (two percent). There are 40,000 new cases diagnosed every year, affecting one out of every 679 citizens.

Heart Failure Classifications

There are three different classifications of heart failure that define both location and the problem. They include:

  • Left-Sided Heart Failure – The heart works by moving oxygen-rich blood from the lungs into the heart’s left atrium before moving it into the left ventricle which then pumps the blood out and to the body. The left ventricle produces most of the pumping power of the heart. LV (left ventricular or left-sided) heart failure can involve one of two different problems that include:
  1. Systolic Failure – The ability of the left ventricle to contract normally is lost, meaning the heart is unable to pump adequate force to ensure that all the blood is circulated.
  2. Diastolic Failure (diastolic dysfunction) – The ability of the left ventricle to relax normally (due to a stiff heart muscle) is lost, meaning the heart is unable to fill with sufficient blood amounts during its resting between beats.
  • Right-Sided Heart Failure – Used blood returns to the heart muscle through veins from the right atrium before being pushed into the right ventricle which then pumps the blood from the heart to the lungs before being replenished with oxygen. RV (right ventricular or right-sided) heart failure is usually the result of a failure on the left side left ventricle causing an increase in the fluid pressure which causes the blood to transfer back through the lungs and create significant damage to the right side of the heart. Blood backup extends into the body’s veins causing congestion and swelling of the ankles legs and abdomen eventually reaching the liver and G.I. tract.
  • Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) – Individual suffering with CHF heart failure must receive immediate medical attention. This is because blood flow from the heart slows during congestive heart failure and returns the blood to the heart by backing up in the veins. This congestion puts pressure on body tissue causing edema (swelling) in the ankles and legs and, at times, other body parts. The collected fluid in the lungs inhibits breathing and causes a shortness of breath especially when the individual is lying down. If left untreated, this pulmonary edema can result in respiratory distress.

It is important to note that heart failure can affect the ability of the kidney to eliminate water and sodium which in turn increases edema (swelling) of body tissue.

Treating Heart Failure

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for heart failure. Recommendations by the doctor will usually depend on numerous factors including the risk of developing further heart failure, those diagnosed with systolic or diastolic ventricular dysfunction and those with advanced symptoms after receiving care. Usual treatments often involve:

  • Smoking cessation (quit smoking)
  • Treatment for high blood pressure
  • Treatment for lipid disorders
  • Avoiding illegal drug and alcohol use
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Beta blockers
  • Surgical options including valve replacement, valve repair, and coronary artery repair
  • Restrictions on dietary sodium levels
  • Aldosterone inhibitors
  • Diuretics
  • Implantable cardiac defibrillators
  • The discontinuation of medications worsening the condition
  • Cardiac resynchronization therapy (pacemakers)
  • Ventricular assistive devices
  • Heart transplants
  • Research therapies
  • Surgical options

Make Changes in Lifestyle Choices

More than likely the doctor will recommend making significant heart-healthy lifestyle changes to prevent heart failure or minimize future damage to the heart. Some of these lifestyle changes will include:

  • Quit smoking
  • Engage in physical activity
  • Attain a healthy weight
  • Maintain heart-healthy eating

A part of performing ongoing care requires looking for signs and symptoms of heart failure to determine if the condition is getting worse. In many cases, weight gain is an indicator that the body is retaining fluids. It is important for individuals suffering from heart failure to avoid respiratory infections including pneumonia and the flu, which might require using vaccinations. The primary health care provider might recommend oxygen therapy, which can be used at home.

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