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Heart Failure Heart Failure
  • What is heart failure?
  • What are the causes of heart failure?
  • What are the symptoms of heart failure?
  • How is heart failure treated?
  • What are the complications and related diseases of heart failure?
Heart Failure

What is heart failure?

Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure or congestive cardiac failure, is a condition in which the heart is unable to pump an adequate supply of blood to the body’s tissues. The main body organs and tissues are therefore deprived of oxygen and nutrients, and, as a result, do not function properly. It can also lead to oedema, which is the build-up of fluids in the tissues.

There are different types of heart failure:

  • Left-sided heart failure, in which fluid may back up in the lungs and cause shortness of breath.
  • Right-sided heart failure, in which fluid may back up into your abdomen, legs, and feet, causing swelling.
  • Systolic heart failure, which results when the left ventricle is unable to contract sufficiently.
  • Diastolic heart failure, which results when the left ventricle is unable to relax or fill fully.

Heart failure is a chronic condition with serious consequences. It affects your general well-being including your mental, physical and social status, and its prevalence increases with age. There is no cure for heart failure, but a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and sometimes surgery can help in the management and the treatment of this condition.

Heart Failure

What are the causes of heart failure?

Heart failure can be caused by heart disease and other conditions that affect the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. Common causes include:

  • Cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes the muscle to weaken. Coronary heart disease and other heart diseases can lead to cardiomyopathy.
  • Coronary heart disease refers to the hardening of the arteries supplying blood to the heart due to the build-up of fatty deposits in the walls of the arteries. This restricts the heart’s ability to pump blood. It is one of the most common causes of heart failure.
  • Defects of the heart valves, and congenital heart disease (heart defects present at birth).
  • High blood pressure, which causes the heart to work harder to supply blood to the body.

Lifestyle factors such as excessive consumption of alcohol and drug abuse can also contribute to heart failure.

Heart Failure

What are the symptoms of heart failure?

If you are suffering from heart failure, you may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Fainting and dizziness due to inadequate blood and oxygen supply delivery to organs and muscles
  • Fatigue due to inadequate blood and oxygen supply delivery to organs and muscles
  • Shortness of breath resulting from fluid build-up in the lungs
  • Sudden death
  • Swollen feet, ankles, and legs resulting from fluid build-up in the veins and body tissues
  • Weight gain due to fluid excess in the body
  • Weight loss

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Severe weakness
  • Fainting
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat accompanied by shortness of breath, chest pain, or fainting
  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath with coughing up of pink, foamy mucous
Heart Failure

How is heart failure treated?

Your doctor may recommend a combination of lifestyle changes and medication to try to treat heart failure.

Lifestyle changes would include:

  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Consume less salt to reduce swelling
  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce or eliminate consumption of alcohol and other harmful drugs
  • Get regular exercise, with advice from your doctor on suitable activities

Medication may be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of heart failure such as arrhythmia. These may include:

  • Diuretics to help eliminate excess fluid in the tissues
  • Vasodilators, Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (ARBs), or beta-blockers to lower blood pressure and control heart rate

Surgery may be needed to correct heart abnormalities that are causing heart failure. If you are facing end-stage heart failure, one of these procedures may be recommended:

  • Defibrillator (pacemaker-like device) to deliver an electrical shock to the heart in the event of a dangerous arrhythmia. A special kind of defibrillator, called a Cardiac Resynchronisation Therapy Defibrillator (CRTD), may be implanted in suitable patients to improve the contractility of the heart.
  • Ventricular assist devices (VADs) that serve as a mechanical pump to support a weak heart and maybe an alternative for those with severe heart failure who are waiting to undergo a heart transplant, or who are not suitable candidates for a heart transplant.
  • A heart transplant from a suitable donor heart may be an option for individuals who are not responding to other treatment options.
Heart Failure

What are the complications and related diseases of heart failure?

Complications of heart failure will depend on factors such as your overall health and age. These may include:

  • Kidney damage, caused by reduced blood flow to the kidneys.
  • Kidney failure, which will make dialysis necessary.
  • Heart valve problems, due to an enlarged heart or high pressure in the heart.
  • Arrhythmias or irregular heart rhythm.
  • Liver damage, as heart failure can lead to the build-up of fluids. This places increased pressure on the liver, and the build-up of fluids can also lead to scarring and impair liver function further.
  • Death.