Everything you need to know about Heart Failure
Heart failure or congestive heart failure is a disease that occurs when the cardiac muscle (heart) cannot pump blood to the body as necessary. This often leads to a back-up of blood, causing fluid to pool in the lungs, liver, etc. This results in various complications that are potentially fatal.
Signs and symptoms of Heart Failure
Some of the signs and symptoms of heart failure include:
- Unexplained fatigue
- Shortness of breath with minimal exertion
- Weight gain over a few days
- Persistent wheeze
- Irregular heart rate
- Swelling of the abdomen or limbs
- Prominent or protruding neck veins
Types of Heart Failure:
Based on the symptoms experienced, heart failure can be classified into four classes:
|I||No limitations of physical activity||Ordinary physical activity does not cause any heart failure symptoms.|
|II||Mild limitations of physical activity||Comfortable at rest or mild physical activity. Heart failure symptoms like palpitations, fatigue and shortness of breath with exertion.|
|III||Marked limitation of physical activity||Comfortable only at rest. Heart failure symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue and pain even with ordinary physical activity.|
|IV||Discomfort with any activity||Minimal physical activity causes significant heart failure symptoms such as persistent cough, swelling, impaired cognition, or sudden shortness of breath during sleep.|
What Causes Congestive Heart Failure?
Some conditions that may increase your risk for developing heart failure include:
- Coronary artery disease (CAD)
- A previous heart attack
- Congenital heart disease
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Poorly controlled diabetes
- Severe anaemia
- Chemotherapy and cancer treatments
- Thyroid disorders
- Drug or alcohol abuse
Heart Failure Diagnosis and Tests
To diagnose heart failure, your doctor may note your symptoms and medical history, as well as perform a physical examination. They may also order additional tests such as:
- Blood tests to understand your kidneys and thyroid function, cholesterol, anaemia, and specific blood peptide indicators.
- Cardiac catheterization to your heart from the inside using a long, thin tube called a catheter inserted into an artery.
- Chest x-ray to assess the size of your heart and check for any fluid build-up.
- Echocardiogram (echo) to see if you have a healthy heartbeat pattern and heart valve integrity.
- Ejection fraction (EF) measures the blood pumped out of your heart with each beat. It can get better or worse based on your condition; it can also indicate if the treatment given to you for heart failure is working.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) is performed to record your heart the electrical activity. For this, electrodes are attached to your body using sticky patches that are connected to an electrocardiograph monitor.
Depending on your condition and the information required by your surgeon, other tests may be needed.
Complications of Heart Failure
If left untreated, heart failure can lead to many complications, including:
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage or failure
- Heart rhythm problems
- Heart valve leak problems
When to see a Doctor Specialist?
Notify your doctor urgently if you have:
- Chest pain
- Fainting or severe weakness
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat associated with shortness of breath or fainting
- Coughing up white or pink, foamy mucus
- Sudden weight gain of 2 to 3 kg or more within a few days.
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Heart Failure Treatment
The treatment of heart failure would depend on the severity of your condition. Although early treatment can help you feel better in the short term, it is important to monitor your heart's health closely.
It can help by improving the heart's ability to pump blood, reduce your heart rate, reduce cholesterol levels, and maintain electrolyte balance.
In later stages, interventional therapies like surgery may be necessary, such as-
- Bypass surgery
- Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)
- Transplant surgery.
Prevention of Heart Failure
By modifying certain habits, you can prevent heart damage:
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight
- Limit your salt intake
- Keep chronic conditions like hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes in check
- Stop using tobacco products
- Frequently exercise and stay active
- Don't abuse alcohol
- Follow your doctors' recommendations on necessary surgery or other procedures
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Can you recover from heart failure?
Heart failure can be very well controlled; a combination of medication and lifestyle changes can prevent further damage to your heart muscle.
What are the final stages of heart failure?
It is the most advanced form of heart failure. People experience symptoms such as breathlessness, swelling of the body, chronic wheezing, a lack of appetite, a very high heart rate (pulse), and disorientation.
What are the signs of worsening heart failure?
As heart failure progresses, the symptoms also worsen. The fluid build-up may begin to occur in your lungs as well as the rest of your body. This gives rise to symptoms such as shortness of breath even at rest, generalized fatigue, swelling of the limbs (particularly legs, ankles, and feet), an increasingly irregular heartbeat, persistent cough with white or pinkish sputum.
Is exercise good for heart failure?
Suppose you plan to start exercising after a diagnosis of heart failure. In that case, it is advised to speak to your doctor beforehand. While it is recommended to stay active, heavy aerobic exercises should be done cautiously and only with approval from experts.
Dr Bharath Kumar G
MBBS, MD, DNBConsultant - Interventional CardiologistDepartment of Cardiac Sciences