Heart Failure : An Introduction for Patients


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a close up of a monitor screen with a heart beat
a close up of a monitor screen with a heart beat

Heart failure refers to a condition where the heart's pumping ability is compromised, leading to a reduced capacity to circulate blood throughout the body. As a consequence, fluid accumulation occurs within the body and vital organs receive insufficient blood supply. This gives rise to various symptoms, including swelling, breathing difficulties, and fatigue.

It's important to note that heart failure doesn't imply a complete cessation of the heart's function, but rather a decrease in its efficiency.

What are the indicators of heart failure?

Initially, heart failure might exhibit no noticeable symptoms. However, as the condition progresses, it can manifest in the following ways:

- Fatigue, weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness.

- Breathing issues, potentially leading to reduced physical activity or the need for extra pillows during sleep.

- An elevated heart rate, even while at rest.

- Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, or abdominal region.

Is there a way to diagnose heart failure?

Certainly. If a healthcare professional suspects heart failure, they will conduct an examination and potentially recommend the following tests:

- Electrocardiogram (ECG): This evaluates the heart's electrical activity and can identify irregular heartbeats or past heart attacks, which can contribute to heart failure.

- Blood tests measuring brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) or N-terminal pro-BNP (NT-proBNP) levels. Elevated levels are indicative of heart failure.

- Chest X-ray: This reveals lung fluid accumulation and provides a visual of the heart's shape and blood vessels.

- Echocardiogram: Using sound waves, this test generates an image of the heart in motion, detailing chamber size, pumping efficiency, and valve function.

- Stress test: Involves treadmill exercise or medication-induced stress, monitoring the heart's performance under increased demand.

- Cardiac catheterization: A thin tube is inserted into a blood vessel, moving it to the heart to measure pressures and possibly utilizing dye for coronary angiography, which reveals potential artery blockages.

Are there steps I can take independently to safeguard my heart health?

Certainly, adopting these practices can improve well-being and minimize the likelihood of hospitalization:

- Adhere to prescribed medications, even when feeling well. Medications are effective when taken as directed by your healthcare provider.

- Monitor symptom changes and follow an action plan. This involves regularly evaluating your symptoms, weighing yourself daily, and acting accordingly if symptoms worsen or weight increases suddenly.

- Notify your healthcare provider of sudden weight gain. Weigh yourself consistently, noting changes, and reach out if there's a sudden increase in weight.

- Reduce salt consumption. Avoid adding salt during cooking or at the table, and opt for fresh or minimally processed foods.

- Manage weight, especially if overweight. Excess weight strains the heart.

- Quit smoking, as smoking exacerbates heart failure and increases the risk of heart attacks.

- Refrain from alcohol consumption, as it's detrimental to heart health in the context of heart failure.

- Engage in safe physical activity. Consult your doctor for suitable exercises.

- Consult your doctor before taking new medications or supplements. Certain substances can worsen heart failure symptoms or interact negatively with prescribed medications.

How is heart failure managed?

Numerous treatment options exist, with medications playing a pivotal role:

- Consistently take prescribed medications to reduce the likelihood of hospitalization, heart attacks, and symptom occurrence.

- Communicate financial concerns to your healthcare provider; they might offer cost-reduction strategies.

- Inform your doctor of any medication side effects. Adjustments to medication type or dosage might be possible.

Other treatments encompass devices enhancing heart function or rhythm, as well as surgical interventions to improve blood flow or replace the heart.