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Heart failure – Symptoms, Causes & Prevention

Heart failure, also known as congestive cardiac failure, occurs when the heart muscle doesn't pump enough blood as it is required. Not all conditions that lead to heart failure can be reversed, but treatments can improve the signs and symptoms of heart failure and help you live longer. Lifestyle changes such as exercising, reducing sodium in your diet, managing stress and losing weight can improve your quality of life.

One way to prevent heart failure is to prevent and control conditions that cause heart failure, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, alcohol, smoking, high cholesterol or obesity.

Symptoms

  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) when you exert or when you lie down (orthopnea)
  • Easy fatiguability and weakness
  • Swelling (edema) in your legs, ankles and feet or all over body (anasarca)
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Swelling of abdomen (ascites)
  • Very rapid weight gain from fluid retention
  • Chest pain if your heart failure is caused by a heart attack
  • One can develop fainting (syncope) due to arrhythmia or may die suddenly (sudden cardiac death)

If you are suffering from any of the above symptoms, you need to consult your cardiologist for evaluation and further management.

Seek emergency treatment if you experience any of the following symptoms

  • Chest pain
  • Fainting or severe weakness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat associated with shortness of breath, chest pain
  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, frothy sputum

Causes

In heart failure, the main pumping chambers of your heart (the ventricles) may become stiff and not fill properly between beats. In some cases of heart failure, your heart muscle may become damaged and weakened, and the ventricles stretch (dilate) to the point that the heart can't pump blood efficiently throughout your body.

An ejection fraction (EF) is an important measurement of how much your heart is pumping. An echocardiogram is an easily available tool to measure this parameter. In a healthy heart, the EF is 50 percent or higher — meaning that more than half of the blood that fills the ventricle is pumped out with each beat.

But heart failure can occur even with a normal ejection fraction. This happens if the heart muscle becomes stiff. This is known as hear failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF).

Following are the common causes of heart failure

  • Coronary artery disease and heart attack
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Faulty heart valves
  • Damage to the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Myocarditis (Infection or inflammation of heart muscle)
  • Heart defects you're born with (congenital heart defects)
  • Abnormal heart rhythms (heart arrhythmias)
  • Diabetes, HIV, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, also may contribute to heart failure

Conditions like diabetes, certain medications, sleep apnea, too much alcohol consumption, tobacco use and obesity make you more prone for heart failure.

Some people's symptoms and heart function will improve with proper treatment. However, heart failure can be life-threatening. People with heart failure may have severe symptoms, and some may require heart transplantation or support with a ventricular assist device.

Prevention

The key to preventing heart failure is to reduce your risk factors. Lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent heart failure include:

  • Not smoking
  • Controlling certain conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Staying physically active
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing and managing stress

Meet your cardiologist regularly to diagnose and treat heart failure. Heart failure is largely a treatable condition provided it is diagnosed in time.

Dr. Ashish Agarwal,

Senior Consultant & HOD

Cardiology

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