Commonly asked questions about heart failure.
- What is heart failure?
- What causes heart failure?
- What are some of the symptoms/signs of heart failure?
- What are some of the risk factors associated with heart failure?
- How can I prevent heart failure?
- What are some of the drugs/medicines that are used to treat heart failure?
What is Heart Failure?
Heart failure does not mean that your heart has failed and stopped working. It simply means that your heart is not pumping blood as well as it should. Certain conditions such as coronary artery disease or high blood pressure will eventually leave your heart too weak to pump blood efficiently.
When your heart is too weak to pump blood correctly it is unable to supply the cells with enough oxygen or blood. This results in fatigue and shortness of breath. Most everyday activities such as walking, climbing stairs or carrying groceries can become increasingly difficult.
What can Cause Heart Failure?
The Mayo Clinic states heart failure usually occurs after other heart conditions have caused damage or weakened the heart. However, the heart doesn’t necessarily need to be weakened to cause heart failure. It can also occur if the heart becomes too stiff.
During heart failure the pumping chambers of your heart may become stiff and not fill in correctly between beats. In other cases of heart failure your heart may become damaged or weakened and the pumping chambers can stretch to the point that the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently. Over time the heart is unable to keep up with the normal demands for blood circulation throughout the body.
What are some of the Symptoms/Signs of Heart Failure?
The American Heart Association has a list of seven key symptoms and signs to look for if you or someone you know may have heart failure.
- Shortness of Breath: During activity, at rest or while sleeping, which may come on suddenly and wake you up.
- Persistent Cough: Coughing that produced white or pink blood tinged mucus.
- Buildup of Excess Fluid in Body: Swelling in the feet, legs, ankles or abdomen you may also notice weight gain.
- Fatigue: Feeling tired all of the time, and difficulties with daily activities.
- Lack of Appetite: You are always feeling full or sick to your stomach.
- Confusion or Impaired Thinking: Memory loss or feelings of distortion. This symptom is often first noticed by a caregiver or relative.
- Increased Heart Rate: Heart palpitations occur which make it feel like your heart is racing or throbbing.
What are some of the Risk Factors Associated with Heart Failure?
The American Heart Association has provided a list of some of the risk factors that are associated with heart failure.
|Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)||When cholesterol and fatty deposits build up in the heart’s arteries, less blood can reach the heart muscle. CAD can also lead to high blood pressure, which can cause heart failure.|
|Past Heart Attack||A heart attack occurs when an artery that supplies blood to the heart muscle gets blocked. The loss of oxygen and nutrients damages the heart’s muscle tissue. The damage caused to the heart by this can eventually cause heart failure.|
|High Blood Pressure||When your blood pressure is too high, the heart must pump harder than normal to keep the blood circulating. This extra work tires out the heart and can cause it damage.|
|Abnormal Heart Valves||Heart valve problems can result from disease, infection or a defect from birth. When the valves don’t open or close completely during each heartbeat, the heart muscle must pump harder to keep the blood flowing. When the workload becomes too much to handle the heart fails.|
|Heart Muscle Disease||Any damage that occurs to the heart muscle (ex: drug, alcohol use)|
|Heart Defects Present at Birth||If the heart and its chambers are unable to form correctly, the healthy parts of the heart must to work harder to compensate.|
|Severe Lung Disease||If lungs don’t work properly, the heart must work harder to get the oxygen that is needed to the rest of the body.|
|Diabetes||People that are affected by diabetes usually develop hypertension and atherosclerosis from heightened lipid levels in their blood. Both of those factors have been linked to heart failure.|
|Obesity||Obesity can cause the heart to work much harder than it would normally have to.|
|Sleep Apnea||Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that causes tissues in the throat to collapse and block the airway. Pauses in breathing caused by this can contribute to severe fatigue and make it difficult to perform tasks. Sleep apnea is also a risk factor for other medical problems such as high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes and stroke.|
How can I Prevent Heart Failure?
There is no set way to prevent heart failure, however you can greatly reduce your chances of heart failure by making healthier lifestyle choices. The Mayo Clinic suggests not smoking, controlling conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, staying physically active, eating healthy foods, keeping a healthy weight as well as reducing and managing your stress levels.
What are Some of the Drugs/Medicines that are Used to Treat Heart Failure?
The American Heart Association has a list of commonly prescribed medications for heart failure.
- Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors
- Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (or Inhibitors)
- Channel Blocker (or inhibitor)
- Beta Blockers
- Aldosterone Antagonists
- Hydralazine and isosorbide dinitrate
- Anticoagulants (blood thinners)
- Cholesterol lowering drugs (statins)