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Things About Heart Failure That You Should Be Aware Of

Heart Failure Symptoms

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Heart failure is a global pandemic affecting at least 26 million people worldwide, and its prevalence is increasing. (Source)

signs and symptoms of heart failure and prolong life. In addition to treatment, lifestyle changes such as exercising, reducing sodium intake, managing stress and losing weight, can improve your quality of life.

What is Congestive Heart Failure?

Heart failure often referred to as congestive heart failure (CHF), is a medical condition which occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to maintain blood flow and to meet the body’s needs. Congestive heart failure may be caused due to certain health conditions, such as narrowed arteries in your heart or high blood pressure.

The overriding intent of this article is to provide awareness on CHF, its signs and symptoms, causes and risk factors, its treatment, and living with CHF.

Stages of Heart Failure

Heart failure is a chronic cardiac condition that gets worse with time. There are 4 heart failure stages (Stage A, B, C and D). The stages start with “high risk of developing heart failure” to “advanced heart failure”. With time, if proper treatment is not administered, the condition gets worse, your heart muscles weaken, and with that you move towards the next stage of heart failure. Once you are at that stage, reversing to the previous stage isn’t all that plausible. At this juncture, do note that congestive heart failure treatment varies from one stage to another, and may involve changes in medications, lifestyle behaviors, and cardiac devices.

  • Stage A
    Stage A is a pre-heart failure stage in which the person is at a high risk of developing heart failure because of a family history of heart failure, or due to one or more medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, coronary artery disease, metabolic syndrome, etc.
  • Stage B
    Stage B is considered pre-heart failure wherein the person is diagnosed with systolic left ventricular dysfunction but does not have the symptoms of heart failure.
  • Stage C
    Stage C patients of heart failure are those who have been diagnosed with heart failure and currently have, or even previously had heart failure symptoms.
  • Stage D
    In this stage, the patient has systolic heart failure and advanced symptoms. This is the final stage of heart failure.

Symptoms and Signs of Heart Failure

Symptoms of heart failure start to appear when your heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of your body. Sometimes, your symptoms may get worse very quickly: –

Heart failure signs and symptoms may include :

  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) during strenuous activity or when lying down
  • Excess fatigue and weakness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged phlegm
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles and feet
  • Increased urination at night
  • Swelling in abdomen
  • Rapid weight gain due to fluid retention
  • Lack of appetite and nausea
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Sudden and severe shortness of breath
  • Chest pain if heart failure is caused by a heart attack

What Causes Heart Failure?

Heart failure is caused due to a range of health conditions that lead to damage of the heart muscle, including –

  • High blood pressure or hypertension – In case of high blood pressure, the heart has to work harder to circulate blood throughout your body. With time, this leads to exertion of the heart, and heart muscles become too stiff or too weak to effectively pump blood.
  • Myocarditis – Myocarditis is a condition that causes inflammation of the heart muscle. It is usually caused by a virus, and can lead to left-sided heart failure.
  • Coronary artery disease – Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a disease that affects the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. In CAD, there is decreased blood flow to the heart muscle. When the arteries become blocked or severely narrowed, the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the heart is decreased.
  • Heart attack – Heart attack occurs when a coronary artery is suddenly blocked, stopping the flow of blood to muscles in the heart. Heart attack can severely damage the heart muscle, resulting in a damaged area that does not function properly.
  • Cardiomyopathy – It is the damage to the heart muscle due to infections or alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Congenital heart defects – These are defects that you are born with, such as defects in the heart and its chambers or valves. Due to these defects, the healthy parts of the heart have to work harder, and over time may lead to heart failure.
  • Abnormal heart rhythms (heart arrhythmias) – Abnormal heart rhythms may cause the heart to beat too fast or too slow, may lead to heart failure.
  • Other conditions – Conditions including thyroid disease, kidney disease, diabetes, or heart defects present at birth can all cause heart failure.

Treatment for Congestive Heart Failure

In case of a heart failure, there are many choices for treatment. In the initial stages, the doctor may advise medication and lifestyle changes. But, in later stages when the condition gets worse, surgery may be the best option.

Treatment options for heart failure include –

Medication – Aldosterone antagonist, ARBs (angiotensin II receptor blockers), Beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, Blood vessel dilators, ARNIs (angiotensin receptor-neprilysin inhibitors), etc.

Surgery and medical devices

  • Bypass surgery
  • Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT)
  • Heart transplant
  • Heart valve surgery
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD)
  • Infarct exclusion surgery
  • Ventricular assist device

Risk factors

one risk factor may be enough to cause a heart failure, but a combination of factors may add onto increase the risk.

The main risk factors include –

1: High blood pressure – High BP makes the heart work harder and exerts the muscles.

2: Certain medicines – Some medicines may lead to heart failure or heart problems. Medications that may increase the risk of heart problems are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), certain anesthesia medications, some anti-arrhythmic medications, certain medications used to treat conditions, and diseases such as high blood pressure, cancer, blood conditions, neurological conditions, psychiatric conditions, etc. However, you should discuss with your doctor before you stop taking any medications on your own.

3: Sleep apnea – Problems with breathing properly while you sleep at night can lead to low blood oxygen levels and increased risk of abnormal heart rhythms. Both of these problems can weaken the heart.

4: Viruses – A viral infection may damage the heart muscle.

5: Alcohol and tobacco use – Drinking too much alcohol or using tobacco can weaken heart muscle and lead to heart failure.

6: Obesity – Those who are obese have a higher risk of developing a heart failure.

When to See a Doctor?

If you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of heart failure or have risk conditions, then it is very important to contact a medical practitioner at the earliest. Seek emergency treatment in case of extreme signs and symptoms, such as –

  • Chest pain
  • Severe weakness or unconsciousness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat along with shortness of breath, chest pain or fainting
  • Severe or sudden shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus

Being diagnosed with heart failure can be terrifying. But knowing about your conditions, symptoms and taking steps to manage your symptoms and keep things under control, is important. A few lifestyle changes, eating a healthy diet (avoiding the foods that increase your risk), daily exercise, and taking your medicines on time can all contribute to help you live a productive and healthy life.

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