Heart failure is a very common condition. Both children and adults can have the condition, although the symptoms and treatments differ. Currently, heart failure has no cure. However, with proper treatment, medicines and lifestyle changes people can live longer and have an active live.
What is heart failure?
Heart failure refers to the inability of the heart to pump sufficient blood needed by the body tissues, due to a weakening or hardening of the heart muscles. Although heart failure may involve pumping chambers at left side, right side or at both the sides of the heart, it often begins at the left side. It may occur progressively as a complication of other heart disease or unexpectedly due to sudden injury to the heart muscles.
Types of heart failure
• Left-sided heart failure — causes difficulty in breathing
• Right-sided heart failure — causes swelling, especially in legs
• Systolic heart failure — blood pumping problems
• Diastolic heart failure — blood filling problems
Heart failure may cause the following symptoms:
• Difficulty in breathing
• Swollen legs and feet
• Abnormal heart beats
• Getting tired easily
• Severe coughing with foamy or bloody mucus
• Frequent urge to urinate, especially during night
• Accumulation of fluid in abdomen
• Unexpected weight gain
• Reduced hunger
• Altered concentration
What causes heart failure?
Following factors may weaken or damage the heart muscles causing heart failure:
• Narrowing of blood vessels in the heart
• High blood pressure (BP)
• Heart defects that may be present at the time of birth
• Long-term use of specific medications e.g. chemotherapy for cancer
• Drug abuse e.g. Cocaine
• Genetic heart diseases
• Too fast or too slow heart beat
• Thyroid diseases
• Accumulation of iron or proteins in the body
• Alcohol consumption
What is the difference between heart attack and heart failure?
A heart attack occurs when certain solid substances form plaque on the inner walls of the blood vessels in the heart. This solid plaque may get ruptured, allowing the solid particles to flow into the blood stream and causes a blood clot at the site of rupture. This blood clot may completely block the blood flow causing injury to the heart muscles. Heart failure is characterised by the symptoms mentioned above while heart attack is characterised by radiating chest pain, sweating, heartburn, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, etc.
How is heart failure treated?
Although heart failure is a severe condition, most of its causes can be reversed with effective treatment. Treatment of heart failure often aims at strengthening the heart muscles and treating the cause, thereby improving the symptoms and preventing further complications
Treatment strategies may include:
• Drugs and medications: The doctor may prescribe several medications or combination of medications to improve the underlying condition and overall symptoms. E.g. medicines to reduce BP, correct heart rhythm, strengthen the heart muscles to treat obstructed breathing and many more.
• Coronary bypass surgery: It is a procedure of bypassing the blocked blood vessel with the help of blood vessel from other parts of the body, mostly from the leg. This surgery enables free blood flow through the heart.
• Surgery to correct structural heart defects: Usually, valve defects leads to heart failure. Minor defects often get resolved with surgery, but in those with severely altered structure, replacement of faulty valve with artificial valve may be needed.
• Implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs): It is an artificial device placed under the skin — in the chest area — and connected to the heart. It helps to regulate and adjust the heart beats to the normal rhythm.