Despite what many people believe, heart failure (HF) does not mean the organ stops working. It means the chambers either lose the ability to pump blood properly, or do not receive sufficient blood in the first place. In both cases, the body does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood. This is a serious, progressive condition that warrants medical attention.It’s estimated that nearly six million people currently suffer from heart failure. Hundreds of thousands die each year from the condition. While it is technically incurable, there are treatment options that can help manage the disorder.
This article will first describe the hallmark signs of the disease, and explain its most common causes. We’ll then describe the manner in which it is treated, including the use of medications and surgery.
Presentation Of The Condition
Many of the symptoms of heart failure stem from a buildup of fluids throughout the body. This occurs when the body attempts to compensate for the lack of oxygen-rich blood by increasing its volume. As a result, fluid begins to build up in the lungs, water is retained by the kidneys, and fluid accumulates in the extremities and abdomen.
Fluid accumulation throughout the body results in shortness of breath, fatigue, and dizziness. These symptoms will become progressively worse as the condition advances. For example, you might eventually experience a lack of strength or shortness of breath after walking from your bedroom to your kitchen.
There are also secondary effects that stem from HF. When fluids begin to build up in the body, patients often develop a persistent cough as well as the need to urinate. Many also begin to gain weight. A severe cough is a sign that fluid accumulation in the lungs has advanced to an acute pulmonary event. This warrants hospitalization.
Common Causes Of Heart Failure
There are several potential causes of HF. One is high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), which often occurs in the lungs. Blood flows through the arteries of the lungs to pick up oxygen before returning to the heart. For a number of reasons, the arteries can become narrowed, which results in increasing blood pressure. The result is not immediate. But over time, high pressure can cause the heart muscle to weaken, making it less able to pump enough blood to the body.
Another cause is coronary artery disease (CAD). Here, plaque accumulates along the walls of the coronary arteries. This narrows them, which restricts the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart muscle. Without sufficient blood and oxygen, the organ begins to weaken, impairing its pumping function.
Diabetes can also contribute to heart failure. Normally, glucose from food is converted into energy. This conversion is initiated by insulin, which is produced by the body. With diabetes, the body fails to produce a sufficient amount of insulin, or does not use it properly to convert glucose into energy. Instead, glucose levels remain high, which damages the heart.
Other potential causes of HF include heart valve disease, cardiomyopathy, and arrhythmias. These conditions are less common as contributing factors than the three noted earlier.
Forms Of Treatment For Heart Failure
Because the disorder is technically incurable, treatment is focused on minimizing symptoms and preventing the condition from worsening. To this end, doctors encourage patients suffering from HF to adopt a healthy diet, and make any lifestyle changes that reduce the stress placed on the heart. This includes losing weight, quitting smoking, and getting regular exercise.
Once the condition progresses past its early stages, doctors may prescribe one or more medications. For example, ACE inhibitors and beta blockers may be given to reduce blood pressure; diuretics can address edema (fluid accumulation) in the lungs; and digoxin might be given to induce the heart to pump more aggressively.
If heart failure has reached an advanced stage, doctors often recommend the installation of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). This device is particularly helpful when the patient suffers cardiac arrest. Once the condition reaches its last stage, the patient may be listed on a heart transplant waiting list.
Heart failure requires ongoing care. If you suspect you are suffering from the disorder, speak with your physician regarding appropriate forms of treatment.
Find more information at CVTSA. Consult a cardiac surgery specialist. Early diagnosis can lead to successful results.