What is Heart Failure?
When you have congestive heart failure (CHF), your heart is not pumping enough blood to meet your body's needs. It does not mean that you are about to die, it just means that your heart is not working as well as it should. Heart failure ccn make ti harder to do things that used to be easy. You can work with your heahthcare provider to improve your heart function and make your heart health better.
What Can You Do?
For most people, heart failure is a chronic, lifelong disease. But, by working with your physician, you can live a more comfortable lifestyle.
- Pay attention to your body and how you feel. If you notice changes, such as shortness of breath, swelling in your legs, or chest discomfort, tell your dostor right away. This will help your healthcare provider intervene early and provide treatment that will work for you.
- Take your medicines as your doctor has prescribed.
- Make some change in your lifesyle. Quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight and stay on a low salt diet.
- Ask your doctor for an exercese prescription, most heart problems improve with mild to moderate exercise.
How Your Heart Functions
The normal heart is a muscle about the size of your fist. It works to pump blood to the lungs where the blood receives oxygen. Once the blood becomes oxygenated, the blood returns to the heart where it is pumped out to the organs, limbs, brain and all other parts of the body. After the body uses up all the oxygen, the blood returns to the heart to repeat the whole process.
What Happens During Heart Failure?
The heart function may become weak for a variety of reasons (see below). When this happens, the heart is unable to pump blood as it should with each beat. This causes blood to back up in the lungs and in the entire body causing symptoms such as shortness of breath and swelling of the lower extremities.
Causes of Heart Failure:
- Coronary artery disease
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Valve disease
- Cardiomyopathy (weak heart muscle) due to viral infections or the toxic effects of drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamines, or certain cancer chemotherapy drugs.
Diagnosing Heart Failure
- EKG: This records the way electrical signals travel through your heart. The pattern can help your physican diagnose some heart conditions
- Echocardiogram: This test uses ultrasound waves to show the structure and function of your heart and your heart valves.
- Stress testing: This test can be done with or without exercise and with or without additional imaging (nuclear or ultrasound) to identify coronary artery disease that may contribute to CHF.
- Cardiac catheterization: X-ray dye is injected into your heart through a catheter that is inserted via the groin or arm. It is used to diagnose heart blood vessel blockages, and can also be used to repair some blockages as well.
- Cardiac EKG monitoring: Many patients with CHF also have occasional irregular heart rhythms. Long term monitoring can help to diagnose these abnormal rhythms and allow your doctor to treat them properly.
This article is an introduction to heart failure and will soon be followed by other articles on heart failure treatment from medical and lifestyle changes to mechanical assist devices and heart transplantation.
Richard Shehane, MD, FACC
Nevada Heart and Vascular Center