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Heart Disease 

Heart Failure 

Definition

Heart failure (or congestive heart failure) is a serious condition where the heart has difficulty pumping enough blood around the body. It occurs when the heart muscle becomes too weak or stiff to pump blood effectively.

Heart failure can be ongoing (chronic) or may start suddenly (acute).

The four types of heart failure include:

  • Left-sided heart failure (a fluid build-up in your lungs causing shortness of breath)
  • Right-sided heart failure (a fluid build-up in your abdomen, legs and feet causing swelling)
  • Systolic heart failure (a pumping problem affecting the left ventricle)
  • Diastolic heart failure (a filling problem as the left ventricle cannot relax or fill fully)

Symptoms

Signs of heart failure may include:

  • Shortness of breath during activity or at rest
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles and feet
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing, with blood-tinged phlegm
  • Increased need to urinate at night
  • Abdomen swelling
  • Sudden weight gain from fluid retention
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness
  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath
  • Chest pain (if your heart failure is caused by a heart attack)

Causes

Heart failure generally develops after other conditions have damaged or weakened your heart. However, sometimes heart failure can occur suddenly if the heart muscle becomes too stiff. The following conditions can damage or weaken your heart and can lead to heart failure:

  • Coronary artery disease and heart attack
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Faulty heart valves
  • Damage to the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle commonly caused by a virus
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Other diseases such as diabetes, obesity, HIV, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or a build-up of iron or protein

Diagnosis 

To diagnose heart failure, your doctor will discuss your medical history, review your symptoms, check for risk factors and may perform a physical examination. These can include:

  • Using a stethoscope to listen for signs of congestion or abnormal heart sounds
  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Echocardiogram
  • Stress test
  • Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Coronary angiogram
  • Myocardial biopsy

Treatment

In the majority of cases, heart failure is a chronic disease that needs ongoing treatment in order to help you live longer and reduce your chance of sudden death.

In some rare cases, doctors may be able to reverse heart failure by treating the underlying cause, like repairing a heart valve or managing a heart rhythm.

The common treatments to help reduce symptoms of heart failure include:

Medication

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers
  • Beta blockers
  • Diuretics
  • Aldosterone antagonists
  • Intropes
  • Digoxin (Lanoxin)

Surgical and medical devices

  • Coronary bypass surgery
  • Heart valve repair or replacement
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs)
  • Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT), or biventricular pacing
  • Heart pumps

If your heart failure becomes too severe the only option may be a heart transplant. Heart transplants can dramatically improve your quality and length of life. If the operation is successful and your body accepts the new organ, patients need to be on lifelong anti-rejection medication and must live a healthy life post-surgery. 

Prevention

Making lifestyle changes to reduce or eliminate the risk factors, is the best way to prevent heart failure. These include:

  • Quit smoking
  • Control medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stay physically active
  • Reduce or manage stress levels
  • Restrict your salt intake
  • Monitor your blood cholesterol
  • Reduce sugar intake
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Get plenty of sleep

Research into Heart Failure 

Research into Heart Failure 

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