Heart failure is a medical condition occurring when the heart isn’t able to pump an adequate amount of blood. Sometimes this means the heart isn’t able to fill with enough blood while in other cases, it means the heart isn’t able to pump blood to the rest of the body. Occasionally, someone will have both of these issues. While some people think the term heart failure means your heart has stopped working, this is inaccurate. Though heart failure is a serious condition that should be addressed immediately.
Causes and Risk Factors
While there is no single cause of heart failure, some people have higher risk factors than others. To start with, children and adults can have heart failure though it is more common in adults. About 5.8 million people in the US currently have heart failure. There isn’t a cure for this condition, though there are various ways to treat it. People over 65 years old, African Americans, obese children and adults, people with heart disease or type 2 diabetes and men all have a higher risk for getting heart failure. Children with congenital heart defects may also develop heart failure.
Symptoms of Heart Failure
A variety of signs and symptoms can be experienced by someone with heart failure, with the most common being shortness of breath, fatigue, or swelling in the ankles, abdomen, neck veins, feet, or legs. These symptoms all result from the buildup of fluids in the body. The earliest stage of heart failure begins with shortness of breath or chest tightening following simply physical activities such as walking up the stairs. The symptoms will gradually get worse if you aren’t caring for the condition properly, such as getting out of breath just walking to another room in your home. Other symptoms of heart failure are sudden weight gain, frequent urination, and a cough that’s worse at night when you’re lying down.
Diagnosing Heart Failure
A physical examination and asking you about your medical history and family history is usually the first step of checking for heart failure. A number of tests will also be done in order to rule out other causes for the symptoms you’re experiencing. The doctor will also try to find the cause of the heart failure such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or coronary heart disease. Tests to be performed for diagnosis include an EKG, chest x-ray, BNP blood test, echocardiography, cardiac catheterization, Doppler ultrasound, coronary angiography, or a stress test.
Treating Heart Failure
The main course of treatment includes treating underlying causes of heart failure such as coronary heart disease, diabetes or high blood pressure, and making lifestyle changes. You will be asked to follow a strict diet, known as a heart healthy diet, of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You will also need to stick to a fitness regimen that keeps the blood flowing through your heart.