Heart Failure

What is heart failure?

The heart is a muscle that pumps oxygen-rich blood to all parts of
the body. When you have heart failure, the heart can’t pump as well as it should. Or
the heart muscle can’t relax and fill the pumping chamber with blood. Blood and
fluid may back up into the lungs. This causes congestive heart failure. And it
causes pulmonary edema. Some parts of the body also don’t get enough oxygen-rich
blood. This means they can’t work well. These problems lead to the symptoms of heart
failure.

What causes heart
failure?

Heart failure may result from:

  • Heart valve disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Active infections of the heart valves or heart muscle, such
    as endocarditis
  • A past heart attack
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Disease of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Heart disease or problems that are present at birth
    (congenital)
  • Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias) that lead to ongoing
    fast heart rates
  • Long-term (chronic) lung disease and pulmonary embolism
  • Some medicines
  • A reaction to medicines such as those used for
    chemotherapy
  • Anemia and too much blood loss
  • Complications of diabetes
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Certain viral infections

What are the symptoms of heart failure?

The most common symptoms of heart failure are:

  • Shortness of breath while resting, exercising, or lying
    flat
  • Weight gain from water retention
  • Visible swelling of the legs and ankles from fluid buildup.
    Sometimes the belly (abdomen) may swell.
  • Severe tiredness (fatigue) and weakness
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, and belly pain
  • Cough that doesn’t go away. It can cause blood-tinged or
    frothy sputum.

The severity of the condition and symptoms depends on how much of
the heart’s pumping ability has been affected. The first step in managing heart
failure symptoms is knowing your baselines or what’s normal for you. How much do you
weigh? Are you gaining weight but eating the same amount? How much can you do before
you feel short of breath? Do your socks and shoes fit comfortably? Knowing what’s
normal for you will help you see when symptoms are getting worse. Once you know your
baselines, watch for changes daily.

The symptoms of heart failure may look like other health problems.
Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is heart failure diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your health history. He or
she will give you a physical exam. You may need tests such as:

  • Chest X-ray. This test
    makes images of internal tissues, bones, and organs on film. This test shows
    the size and shape of your heart. Fluid in the lungs will also show up on
    X-ray.
  • Echocardiogram. This
    test is also called echo. It uses sound waves to assess the motion of the
    heart’s chambers and valves. The sound waves make an image on the screen as an
    ultrasound transducer is passed over the heart. This shows how well the heart
    pumps and relaxes. It also shows the thickness of the heart walls, and if the
    heart is enlarged. It is one of the most useful tests because it shows a lot of
    information about the heart’s function. And it helps guide treatment
    choices.
  • Electrocardiogram
    (ECG).
    This test records the electrical activity of the heart. It shows
    abnormal rhythms. It can sometimes find heart muscle damage.
  • BNP testing. B-type
    natriuretic peptide (BNP) is a hormone released from the ventricles that occurs
    with heart failure. BNP levels are useful in the quick assessment of heart
    failure. The higher the BNP levels, the worse the heart failure. BNP is measured
    from a blood sample.
  • Cardiac MRI. This test
    uses a magnetic field to make images of the heart and its nearby tissues. It can
    assess how the heart muscle and valves are working.