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What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a condition where the heart muscle is weakened and is not able to efficiently pump blood to the rest of the body.

The term heart failure does not mean that your heart has stopped pumping, rather your heart muscle is not able to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.

Heart failure often cannot be cured, but with treatment and lifestyle changes, many patients go on to have a good quality of life. 

During heart failure, the heart attempts to compensate for decreased pumping power, which may change its shape and result in an uncoordinated (or unsynchronized) and inefficient heartbeat.

Risk Factors

  • Coronary artery disease.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Diabetes.
  • Heart valve problems/congenital heart disease.
  • Cardiomyopathy.
  • Family history.
  • Previous heart attack.
  • Infection of the heart (myocarditis).
  • Infection of the hearts’ inner lining (endocarditis).
  • Congenital heart disease (condition you were born with).

Symptoms

Shortness of breath.

Swelling of feet and leg.

Chronic lack of energy.

Difficulty sleeping at night due to breathing problems.

Abdomen tenderness and swelling, and loss of appetite.

Increased urination at night.

Confusion/impaired memory.

Swollen/tender abdomen.

Diagnostic testing

Your doctor will note your medical history, perform a physical exam, and order a few tests to see how well your heart works. They include:

  • Blood tests and a painless echocardiogram – to examine the heart’s structure and function
  • A stress test – to determine what is causing your heart failure.
  • A chest x-ray – to view any enlargement of your heart.
  • An angiogram may also be done to detect any narrowed or blocked arteries.

Treatment

  • Medication can be prescribed to alleviate symptoms, prevent disease progression and increase life expectancy.
  • If the heart failure is due to heart disease, then bypass surgery will be done for coronary artery disease and valve replacement for valve disease.

Preventing heart failure

  • Weigh yourself regularly as sudden weight gain may suggest too much fluid is accumulating in your body.
  • Control your fluid intake.
  • Control your blood pressure to reduce the strain on your heart.
  • Cut down on salt.
  • Limit or eliminate alcoholic drinks.
  • Keep active. This can help improve your energy, stamina and fitness. Regular physical activity can also help you to cope better with your symptoms.
  • Keep to a healthy weight, which will help to prevent your heart from working too hard.
  • Take your medication regularly to prevent exacerbations of heart failure.

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