A man experiencing symptoms of heart failure.
Heart and Vascular

What You Should Know About Heart Failure

Feb 23 2021

Do you often have shortness of breath, especially when you go to bed at night? Are your ankles, feet and legs swollen? Or, have you noticed that you have begun to cough or wheeze when you exercise? These are all commons symptoms of heart failure.

Heart failure can be a misleading term as it refers to how the heart is pumping, not when the heart stops. Specifically, heart failure is a term used to describe a condition where the heart cannot pump a sufficient amount of blood throughout your body. Learn more about this condition that impacts nearly 6.5 million Americans.

Causes of heart failure

One of the main causes of heart failure is coronary artery disease, also known as CAD. CAD is a condition where the arteries become clogged with plaque. This reduces the heart’s ability to pump enough blood.

Additional causes for heart failure include having previously had a heart attack or any heart defects. Conditions such as persistent high blood pressure, heart valve disease, an infection that diminished the heart’s function, arrhythmias, obesity, diabetes, HIV, hypothyroidism, alcoholism or drug dependency, along with certain chemotherapy treatments can also be causes.

Types of Heart Failure (yes, there is more than one)

There are four general types of heart failure that describe deficiencies in specific parts of the heart.

Systolic Heart Failure occurs when enlarged ventricles within the heart fill with blood. This causes the heart to not be able to pump or squeeze enough blood out to the rest of the body.

Diastolic Heart Failure is when ventricles stiffen up and fill with less blood than usual, therefore, causing the heart to not fill with enough blood.

Right-sided heart failure describes a condition where fluid may back up into your abdomen, legs and feet, causing swelling. This may affect your mobility and create an increase in discomfort.

Left-sided heart failure occurs when fluid from the heart backs up into your lungs, causing shortness of breath.

Common signs of heart failure

So, how do you know if you have heart failure? Often, the first sign is if your ankles and feet have begun to swell. Frequently, patients will ignore this symptom, thinking that they have been on their feet too much or it’s due to weight gain.

You may also have heart failure if you experience shortness of breath, especially when resting or lying down at night. Experiencing a persistent, tired, run-down feeling when you really haven’t been that active is another common sign. Coughing or wheezing during exercise or when lying down, moderate weight gain from fluid retention, fast or irregular heartbeat, having to get up during the night to urinate, and feeling general confusion are additional symptoms.

If you are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms of heart failure, the first step is to talk to your primary care provider. They will conduct a thorough exam, discuss your medical history and run blood tests to identify potential problems.

While there is not cure for congestive heart failure, it can be managed by developing healthier lifestyle habits, medications and surgical interventions, if necessary.

Lifestyle changes to help with heart failure

If you are diagnosed with heart failure, it is important to adopt a healthier lifestyle. This includes eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising, losing weight and stopping smoking. Additionally, medication can help make you more comfortable and slow the progression of the condition.

You must remember, your heart is a muscle and as with any increase in activity, will become stronger. You should always consult with your primary care provider on what level of activity is right for you.

Additionally, you may be prescribed medications that control blood pressure, diuretics to help flush excess fluid from the body, as well as medications that help strengthen the heart muscle and maintain even heart rhythms.

Surgical interventions such as a defibrillator to jump-start the heart or other device to help control blood flow may be necessary.

Please note, if you ever feel you are experiencing serious health symptoms, go to the nearest emergency room to receive care.

Want to learn more about your heart health? Take our free, online heart risk assessment today.

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