Dr Tendai Zuze
HEART failure occurs when your heart muscle doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. Not all conditions that lead to heart failure can be reversed, but treatments can improve the signs and symptoms of heart failure and help you live longer.
One way to prevent heart failure is to control conditions that cause heart failure, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity.
You should suspect heart failure if you develop the following symptoms:
Shortness of breath when you exert yourself or when you lie down
Fatigue and weakness
Swelling (oedema) in your legs, ankles and feet
Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Reduced ability to exercise
Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged phlegm
Increased need to urinate at night
Swelling of your abdomen (ascites)
Sudden weight gain from fluid retention
Lack of appetite and nausea
Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness
Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus
Chest pain if your heart failure is caused by a heart attack
In heart failure, the main pumping chambers of your heart (the ventricles) may become stiff and not fill properly between beats. In some cases of heart failure, your heart muscle may become damaged and weakened, and the ventricles stretch (dilate) to the point that the heart can’t pump blood efficiently throughout your body. Over time, the heart can no longer keep up with the normal demands placed on it to pump blood to the rest of your body.
Any of the following conditions can damage or weaken your heart and can cause heart failure. Some of these can be present without your knowing it:
Coronary artery disease and heart attack. Over time, arteries that supply blood to your heart muscle narrow from a build-up of fatty deposits. The build-up of plaques can cause reduced blood flow to your heart. A heart attack occurs if plaques formed by the fatty deposits in your arteries rupture. This causes a blood clot to form, which may block blood flow to an area of the heart muscle, weakening the heart’s pumping ability and often leaving permanent damage
High blood pressure (hypertension). If your blood pressure is high, your heart has to work harder than it should to circulate blood throughout your body.Over time, the heart muscle may become thicker to compensate for the extra work it must perform. Eventually, your heart muscle may become either too stiff or too weak to effectively pump blood.
Faulty heart valves. The valves of your heart keep blood flowing in the proper direction through the heart. A damaged valve — due to a heart defect, coronary artery disease or heart infection — forces your heart to work harder to keep blood flowing as it should.Over time, this extra work can weaken your heart. Faulty heart valves, however, can be fixed or replaced if found in time.
Damage to the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy). Heart muscle damage can have many causes, including several diseases, infections, alcohol abuse and the toxic effect of drugs, such as cocaine or some drugs used for chemotherapy.
Myocarditis. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle. It is most commonly caused by a virus and can lead to left-sided heart failure.
Heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects). If your heart and its chambers or valves haven’t formed correctly, the healthy parts of your heart have to work harder to pump blood through your heart, which, in turn, may lead to heart failure.
Abnormal heart rhythms. Abnormal heart rhythms may cause your heart to beat too fast, which creates extra work for your heart. Over time, your heart may weaken, leading to heart failure.
Other diseases. Chronic diseases – such as diabetes, HIV, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or a build-up of iron (hemochromatosis) or protein (amyloidosis) —also may contribute to heart failure.
Making lifestyle changes can often help relieve signs and symptoms of heart failure and prevent the disease from worsening. The following will be useful:
Stop smoking. Smoking damages your blood vessels, raises blood pressure, reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and makes your heart beat faster.
Check your legs, ankles and feet for swelling. Check for any changes in swelling in your legs, ankles or feet. Consult your doctor if swelling worsens.
Eat a healthy diet. Aim to eat a diet that includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and lean proteins.
Restrict salt in your diet. Too much sodium contributes to water retention, which makes your heart work harder and causes shortness of breath and swollen legs, ankles and feet.
Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, your dietitian will help you work toward your ideal weight. Even losing a small amount of weight can help.
Limit fats and cholesterol. In addition to avoiding high-sodium foods, limit the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet. A diet high in fat and cholesterol is a risk factor for coronary artery disease, which often underlies or contributes to heart failure.
Limit alcohol and fluids. Your doctor likely will recommend that you don’t drink alcohol if you have heart failure, since it can interact with your medication, weaken your heart muscle and increase your risk of abnormal heart rhythms.
Be active. Moderate aerobic activity helps keep the rest of your body healthy and conditioned, reducing the demands on your heart muscle. Before you start exercising though, talk to your doctor about an exercise program that’s right for you.
Reduce stress. When you’re anxious or upset your heart beats faster, you breathe more heavily and your blood pressure often goes up. This can make heart failure worse, since your heart is already having trouble meeting the body’s demands.
If you are worried about heart failure, please visit your doctor.