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Heart Failure: Awareness on Symptoms, Causes, and Debunking Misconceptions

By Dr. Yogendra Singh in Cardiology

Feb 21 , 2024 | 2 min read

Heart Failure Awareness Week, observed annually in February, is a vital reminder of the prevalence and impact of heart failure on individuals worldwide. During this week, communities unite to raise awareness, educate, and advocate for improved prevention, detection, and management of heart failure. 

Contrary to its name, heart failure does not mean the heart has stopped working. Instead, it is a chronic condition in which the heart's ability to efficiently pump blood is compromised. As a result, the body may not receive adequate oxygen and nutrient supply, leading to various symptoms and complications.

Understanding Heart Failure vs. Heart Attack

It's essential to differentiate between heart failure and a heart attack, as they are distinct cardiovascular conditions with different underlying mechanisms:

  • Heart Failure: Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump blood effectively, leading to symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, and fluid retention.
  • Heart Attack: A heart attack (also called a myocardial infarction) occurs when a blockage in the coronary arteries interrupts blood flow to a part of the heart muscle and causes damage or death to the affected tissue. While heart attacks can lead to heart failure, they are separate events.

Symptoms of Heart Failure

Heart failure manifests through a variety of symptoms, which may include:

  • Shortness of breath (especially during physical activity or when lying down).
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing.
  • Fatigue and weakness.
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, or abdomen due to fluid retention.
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat.
  • Reduced ability to exercise.
  • Sudden weight gain.

Causes of Heart Failure

Heart failure can result from various factors, including:

7 Myths and Facts About Heart Failure

Myth: Heart failure only affects older adults.

Fact: While heart failure is more common in older adults, it may affect individuals of any age, including children and young adults.

Myth: Heart failure and heart attack are the same.

Fact: Heart failure and heart attack are distinct conditions with different causes and symptoms. A heart attack may lead to heart failure, but they are not interchangeable terms.

Myth: Heart failure is always fatal.

Fact: While heart failure is a serious condition, many individuals manage their symptoms effectively with medications, lifestyle changes, and medical interventions.

Myth: Heart failure cannot be prevented.

Fact: Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a balanced diet, managing stress, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, may reduce the risk of developing heart failure.

Myth: Heart failure only affects the heart.

Fact: Heart failure can impact various organs and systems in the body due to reduced blood flow and oxygen delivery, leading to complications such as kidney dysfunction and liver congestion.

Myth: People with heart failure should avoid exercise.

Fact: Regular, moderate exercise is often recommended for individuals with heart failure, as it can improve cardiovascular health, endurance, and quality of life.

Myth: Heart failure is always accompanied by visible symptoms.

Fact: Some individuals with heart failure may experience subtle or atypical symptoms, making early detection challenging. Regular screenings and medical check-ups are crucial for early intervention.

Heart Failure Awareness Week serves as a pivotal opportunity to prioritize cardiovascular health, dispel myths, and foster a deeper understanding of heart failure within our communities. By recognizing the symptoms, understanding the causes, and debunking misconceptions, we can work towards better prevention, management, and support for those affected by this condition.