Heart Failure Patient Education Facts – Overview
Heart failure is a health condition in which the heart becomes incapable of pumping blood as it normally does.
This causes an inadequate flow of blood to the organs, such as kidneys and causes congestion in other organs, such as the lungs.
According to studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the major cause of death among men and women of most ethnic and racial groups in the US.
Reports suggest that 1 person dies of heart disease every 34 seconds in the US. In 2020, around 697,000 people in the US died from heart disease, including heart failure.
Besides this, it costs the US around US$ 229 billion every year to cover the cost of heart disease treatment.
The term “heart failure” is technically incorrect as the condition does not compel the heart to stop working completely.
In some instances, heart failure can be mild and show minor symptoms which are only seen when performing specific physical activities.
On the other hand, heart failure can cause severe, sometimes life-threatening, symptoms.
Shortness of breath, fatigue, fluid retention and swelling in the legs are the most common symptoms of heart failure.
Despite the advances in medical science that can effectively detect, treat and prevent heart failure, the majority of people are unaware of this.
Hence, the state and federal governments promote the idea that patients should be educated about heart failure by doctors.
In this article, we shall take a detailed look at the causes, symptoms, treatments and prevention of heart failure.
What is Heart Failure?
For normal functioning, all four chambers within the heart should functions.
The upper two chambers (left and right atrium) and the lower two chambers (left and right ventricle) make up the entire heart.
Initially, blood flows from the right atrium down to the right ventricle which transfers it to the lungs.
The lungs oxygenate the blood which is then recovered by the left atrium and enters the left ventricle. From here, the oxygenated blood is pumped to the rest of the body.
When you perform physical activities, such as climbing stairs, the muscles in the body require additional oxygen, which makes the heart beat more efficiently.
However, if a person suffering from heart failure does any physical activity, their heart is unable to supply the additional quantity of oxygen that is needed by the body to function at this level.
This inability to pump sufficient oxygenated blood to the body causes high pressure in the heart, resulting in what is called “heart failure”.
What are the different types of Heart Failures?
There are two main types of heart failure. Both are defined by whether the “ejection fraction” (an indicator of how well the left ventricle is pumping blood) is preserved or reduced.
In heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (diastolic heart failure), the heart becomes too stiff and is unable to relax and refill the blood as it normally does.
On the other hand, heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (systolic heart failure) results when the heart becomes too weak and is unable to pump blood normally.
What are the causes of Heart Failure?
There are multiple things that can cause heart failure. For instance, any disease or disorder that damages the heart can cause heart failure. Thankfully, treating these disorders or diseases in their early stages helps to prevent (or slow down) the development of heart failure.
The most common causes of heart failure include:
High blood pressure
High blood pressure (hypertension) makes the heart work harder to pump blood. After some time, this increased pressure on the heart takes a toll on the heart’s ability to relax and fill with blood.
Coronary heart disease
Coronary heart disease causes the blood-supplying arteries to get clogged with plaque (fatty deposits) which reduces the flow of blood significantly. This causes parts of the heart muscles to get deprived of oxygen.
This is most often seen during physical activities, such as exercising when the body needs more oxygenated blood. This causes the heart to work below its normal potential.
Coronary heart disease, if left untreated, often results in a heart attack if an artery gets completely clogged, causing permanent damage to the heart muscle.
When coronary heart disease impairs the normal functioning of the heart, it can lead to heart failure.
Cardiomyopathy is a condition in which the heart muscles are unable to suck and pump blood normally. However, this condition is not caused by coronary heart disease or high blood pressure.
There are different medical conditions that can lead to the development of cardiomyopathies, such as an infection, certain autoimmune diseases, accumulation of abnormal proteins and genetic mutations.
Still, there are times when the exact cause of cardiomyopathy is not identifiable but the symptoms remain.
Heart valve disease
There are several conditions that can damage the heart valves which regulate the pressure and flow of blood in the right direction. Stenosis causes the heart valves to get narrowed which hinders the normal flow of blood through the valve and increases the pressure in the heart too.
In other cases, the valve can spring a leak which causes regurgitation, resulting in reversing the normal flow of blood. At times, both these conditions can affect the heart valves simultaneously, making them narrower and leak.
What are the signs and symptoms of Heart Failure?
As the amount of blood pumped by the heart decreases, various symptoms begin developing, including:
- Feeling fatigued (tired) quickly
- Shortness of breath
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Weakness in legs when exercising
- Rapid heart rate even in resting position
- Swelling in the lower legs and feet (edema) or in the abdomen (ascites)
- Unwanted weight loss
How is Heart Failure diagnosed?
Heart failure is usually diagnosed after reading through your medical history, a physical exam and a series of tests. These tests determine how well your heart is working and also identify the potential cause of the symptoms of heart failure.
Some of the most commonly used diagnostic tests to detect heart failure include:
An ECG helps to measure the electrical activity that causes the heart to beat. It detects conditions that can result in heart failure, such as heart attack or abnormal heart rhythm.
A blood test called B-type Natriuretic Peptide (BNP) or N-terminal pro-BNP (NT-proBNP) tests a type of hormone produced by the heart and checks the level.
A chest x-ray test can show the size and shape of the heart and the larger blood vessels in the chest. This test also shows the presence of fluid in the lungs which might be hindering the blood from being oxygenated properly.
An Echocardiogram uses ultrasound technology to check the size and function of the heart’s chambers along with the structure and functions of the heart valves. This test measures the ejection fraction of the left ventricle pumps.
An exercise (or stress) test also helps to determine how well your heart performs during exercise. This test helps to identify signs of shortage in blood supply that may be caused by clogged arteries.
How is Heart Failure treated?
There are several treatment methods for heart failure. Mostly, this is a long-term (chronic) condition for most patients.
The doctor may recommend changing diet and lifestyle, prescribing different types of medication, or advising undergoing surgical treatment.
The specific type of treatment is determined by the specific factors seen in individual cases of heart failure.
To learn even more details about heart failure, you can visit the official CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/materials_for_patients.htm.
Heart failure is an extremely common condition today. This is the reason that physicians recommend undergoing regular medical tests to ensure that you do not suffer from early-stage heart failure.
Early detection of the condition is one of the best and most effective ways to treat heart failure.