Heart Failure is a condition when your heart muscles are unable to pump as much blood as your body needs. It does not mean that the heart has stopped it simply implies it is not pumping as much as it should.
Since your heart is not pumping well, the body makes up for it, by doing this:
The body catches salt and water. This results in the increase of the amount of blood in the bloodstream.
The hearts starts to beat fast.
The heart grows bigger size.
The human body is well equipped coping up with heart failure. It will do such a commendable job that you will not even realize you had any disease for some time. But it will eventually wear out and then your body will be in no condition to keep up. At this point, fluids will start to build up and the body will start showing signs of weakness and breathlessness.
The buildup of fluid is called congestion. And hence certain doctors call the diseases congestive heart failure.
Heart disease usually gets worse with time. But good treatment may slow down the disease and will help one feel better and even live longer.
Causes of heart failure?
Common known causes of heart failure are:
High blood pressure
Coronary artery disease
There are other conditions that might lead to heart failure:
Cardiomyopathies- disease of the heart muscle
Pericardial disease- Disease of the sac which surrounds the heart (Pericarditis).
Heart valve disease
Heart problems since birth- congenital heart defect.
Arrhythmia- slow, fast or uneven heartbeats.
Abuses such as alcohol, nicotine which can damage the heart.
Symptoms of heart failure?
When your heart fails to pump enough blood that the body needs, it shows certain symptoms that can alarm one. In the early stage, one may:
Feel easily tired
Feel breathlessness, especially during normal activities or exercise.
Feel the heart beating fast or pounding- palpitation.
Feel dizzy or weak.
As the condition persist the fluids start to build up in the body especially lungs. This may result in a severe stage where the patients may:
Feel short of breath even while relaxing.
Have swelling in the body parts, like legs, feet, and ankles.
Increase weight: this can happen even in a day or more slowly yet at alarming rate.
Feel the need to urinate in the night more often than needed.
Feel sick all the time.
If the symptoms get worse you should get immediate care.
Diagnosis of heart failure
The diagnosis can be made based on the symptoms and a physical examination by the doctor, yet one must perform certain test to be sure and find the causes of the conditions and thus finalize the right course of treatment. The tests to be performed are:
X-ray – chest.
ECG or EKG- electrocardiogram to find out the heart's electrical system.
To check the size and shape of the heart and its condition in pumping blood- echocardiogram.
Check the coronary arteries (heart and the blood vessels) - cardiac catheterization.
Stress test- which shows the condition of the coronary arteries disease.
An echocardiogram is the simplest and effective way to find out about everything in case of a heart failure, whether one is suffering from it or it is just a false alarm, the causes in case of the conditions and then the type of heart failure. This also helps the doctor find whether the heart situation is getting worse or not.
The test can find out the amount of blood the heart pumps to your body. The measurement is known as ejection fraction. If the ejection fraction is getting lower and there are other symptoms as well then it means that the heart failure is getting worse.
How to treat it?
Mostly heart situations are treated with medicines. The doctors may prescribe medicines for one of the following reasons:
To keep the heart failure from getting worse: The medicine drugs here are angiotensin II receptor blocker (ARBs), ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, vasodilators such as hydralazine and nitrate.
To reduce the conditions: so that the patients feel better. The drugs like potassium, diuretics and digoxin (water pill).
To reduce the causes of the heart failure.
It is very important here that one must take all the prescribed medicine on time and the way doctor has advised.
DEFIBRILLATOR OR PACEMAKER
One can use the defibrillator or pacemaker in situation when the condition of heart failure is due to the rhythm of the heart. A pacemaker makes the heart pump blood effectively and a defibrillator (ICD) can prevent the rhythm problem of the heart.
Lifestyle changes are a must when treating the heart failure. They slow down the heart failure conditions and most of the time they help control other diseases which make the heart situation worse, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary arteries etc.
Steps for some changes are:
Less sodium intake: Sodium makes your body to retain water which makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood. Doctors sometimes also limit the amount of fluid one must drink.
Regular exercise: Exercise regularly, here it should be noted that the doctors consultation is needed, doctors help one determine what exercise is best for you, how to get the pulse rate right and also the alarming rate if you are doing too much.
Take breaks for rest during the day.
Lose weight if you are obese. Even a little extra pound counts here.
Quit smoking: smoking has an ill effect on the heart and lungs.
Ration on Alcohol: make sure that you ask the doctor if it is safe and if yes then how much.
Consult your doctor for cardiac rehab. Rehab can provide you education and consultation which will help you take care of yourself. You will learn the healthy way of leading your life.
To stay healthy keep up with the happening of your heart, consult your doctor regularly and get all your tests done in time to avoid emergencies. It is highly important that you:
Consult your doctor before taking any medicine, which includes prescribed drugs as well. Some non-prescribed drugs, vitamins and herbs may result in a negative effect on your heart condition.
Keep a track. Take the weight on the same time every day; keep the record of your weight. Talk to your doctor immediately f you see any signs of immediate change in the weight or in the ability to exercise.
What should one expect in case of heart failure?
Medicines and lifestyle changes are known to slow down or in some cases even reverse the heart failure condition. But in most of the cases it is known to get worse with time. Heart failure may lead to heart attack or strokes, or clots.
Doctors may be able to provide treatments to these situations if they happen, but you will need emergency care in such situations. To avoid that make sure that you do not avoid any of the prescribed medicines or lifestyle changes.
If you feel sad or depressed due to the condition, it is normal talk to your doctor, antidepressants and counseling can help you cope with the situation better.