About the disease
Heart failure is a condition whereby the heart has difficulties in pumping blood around the body. Since the blood is moving more slowly through the veins and arteries, the heart is put under more pressure than usual. As a result, body tissue does not receive enough oxygen, meaning there is also a lack of essential nutrients.
In an attempt to normalize the blood flow, the heart’s chambers start to stretch. Over time, this can make the chamber walls become stiff and can weaken the heart’s muscles.
There are two main types of heart failure: congestive and acute. In congestive heart failure, the heart muscles weaken and an insufficient supply of oxygen is delivered to the body. In turn, the kidneys start to retain salt and water. Fluid may start to build up in the arms and legs as a result of the congestion. Acute heart failure starts suddenly with shortness of breath and a rapid heartbeat.
Approximately 6 million people are affected by heart failure in the USA alone, making this disease extremely common, especially among people older than 65. One of the leading causes of heart failure is coronary artery disease. Coronary arteries are responsible for transporting oxygen around the body, so if they become narrow or blocked, the body becomes starved of oxygen and this can lead to heart failure. In some cases, scarring of the heart muscle caused by a heart attack can prevent the blood from being pumped around the body properly, leading to heart failure. Continuous high blood pressure, which can affect the way the heart muscles work, can also cause heart failure.
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heart beat
- Rapid pulse
- Dry cough
- Swollen ankles and arms from water retention (congestive heart failure)
- During a general examination, the doctor will ask the patient about their symptoms and any medical conditions that could cause heart failure, such as coronary artery disease, kidney failure or a previous heart attack.
- The doctor is likely to listen to the patient’s heart beat through a stethoscope and ask whether they have a history of high blood pressure.
- Blood test results can be used to evaluate the patient’s hemoglobin level. (This is a protein that is responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body.) The blood test will also establish whether the patient has high cholesterol levels. (This can cause hardening and blockage of the arteries and lead to heart failure).
- A chest X-ray can help doctors to check the size of the heart and the condition of its chambers and arteries.
- An echocardiogram can be used to evaluate the heart’s function and movement.
- An ECG measures the heart’s electrical impulses.
- A cardioverter-defibrillator can be surgically implanted inside the body, next to the heart. This device serves to regulate blood pressure and should prevent future episodes of heart failure.
- A coronary angiography is a surgical procedure, whereby coronary arteries that are blocked or narrowed are repaired.
- Thoracentesis is a procedure that removes the build-up of fluid that can sometimes accumulate as a result of heart failure.