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Heart Failure

What is heart failure? How can you deal with it?

Heart failure develops slowly as the heart muscle gradually weakens. In a healthy heart, the chambers contract and relax in a coordinated way, or in synchrony. In the case of people with heart failure, their hearts do not pump as synchronized as they should and so blood does not circulate as well as it should.

What causes heart failure?

The causes of heart failure vary with age and family history but they have something in common: they damage the heart muscle somehow and it does not pump blood as it should.  There are some risk factors and any one, or a combination, of these risk factors can lead to ventricular fibrillation.

  • Coronary Artery Disease and Heart Attack
    Your heart muscle has its own blood vessels, called coronary arteries, that carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart walls. A heart attack occurs when a portion of the muscle is permanently damaged by a clogged vessel that interrupts blood flow to the heart. The severity of a heart attack depends on how much the heart muscle is damaged and how long the muscle went without oxygen.
  • Breathing problems
    Problems with breathing are among the most common symptoms of heart failure. Some breathing problems occur when fluid backs up in the lungs and the surrounding tissues, which may cause breathlessness after mild exercise, as well as asthma-like wheezing or dry cough a few hours after lying down. Advanced stages of heart failure can cause a feeling of suffocation.
  • If too little blood reaches your body’s tissues, they retain fluid and begin to swell. Swelling happens first in your feet, then in your ankles and legs, and finally in your abdomen. As tissues retain salt and water, you might gain weight even if you’re eating less.
  • Other symptoms of heart failure may include: fatigue, heart palpitations, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, fainting and difficulty to sleep.

How is heart failure diagnosed?

In addition to a physical exam, your doctor may use blood tests, x-rays, an electrocardiogram (ECG) test, an echocardiogram, or other tests to diagnose heart failure.
Early diagnosis is critical to early treatment, which can delay the onset of some symptoms.

Your doctor may use different methods to determine if you have a heart failure, its severity and most appropriate treatment.
Your doctor will start asking about your medical history and symptoms. Then, your doctor will examine you to determine if your heart is enlarged or if you have irregular heart sounds. He/She will also determine irregular sounds and swelling or tenderness of the liver and water retention. To confirm a heart failure diagnosis, your doctor might order some of these tests: blood tests, chest X-rays, electrocardiogram (ECG), echocardiogram, exercise test, catheterization or an electrophysiology study.

What does treatment involve?

Heart failure cannot be cured, but many treatment options exist to:

  • Help prevent disease progress.
  • Allow you to live a more normal life.
  • Reduce symptoms and your need for hospitalization.
  • Reduce the risk of death.

Different treatments include: lifestyle changes, medications, implantable devices and surgery. The choice of heart failure therapy – and its effects – can vary from one person to another. The physician will determine the most appropriate treatment for each person.

Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) is one treatment option. A CRT device helps a heart failure heart beat more like a normal heart using electrical pulses timed together.

Prevention

Follow a low fat and high fiber diet. Reduce alcohol consumption. Do not smoke. Exercise regularly.