People often think of heart failure is a heart attack, or the heart not working altogether. However, heart failure simply means the heart isn’t pumping blood as well as it should be. If the heart can’t properly circulate blood throughout the body, cells don’t get the oxygen they need which can lead to many side effects.
Causes of Heart Failure
It’s important to know how the heart normally functions in order to understand the physical cause of heart failure. The heart is comprised of four chambers: the two atria on the top and two ventricles on the bottom. When it’s working properly, these chambers function in a very organized way and pump in a precise order for oxygen to get to the lungs, as well as other organs and tissue.
However, with heart failure, the heart can’t keep up with the workload. Either the chamber walls of the heart are too thin and aren’t strong enough to bump enough blood, or they’re too thick and can’t fill enough blood in the chambers to supply to the rest of the body.
The heart and body will try and compensate with one more methods such as enlarging the heart chambers to pump more blood, developing more muscle mass to pump more strongly, pumping faster, narrow vessels to regulate blood pressure, or prioritizing blood to important organs (the brain or lungs) from less important organs (kidneys). These may stabilize the symptoms of heart failure temporarily, but they ultimately will cause their own problems and may not treat heart failure in the long run.
Who is at Risk for Heart Failure
Typically, heart failure is more common with age. More than 6 million people in the U.S. live with heart failure, and typically are 65 years of age or older. This is because heart failure is usually a complication of another heart disease, and most people with those diseases are in this age group. The most common conditions that lead to heart failure are coronary artery disease, previous heart attack, and high blood pressure.
Signs and Symptoms of Heart Failure
Symptoms of heart failure are usually caused by the body’s compensation of the heart’s weakness. Common symptoms include:
Shortness of breath – Blood backs up in the veins that carry blood to your lungs, due to the heart’s lethargy (and possible enlargement), which leads to fluid buildup in the lungs.
Fatigue and lightheaded feeling – The heart diverts blood to more vital organs which makes your muscles, specifically in your limbs, get less oxygen and feel more tired.
Coughing and wheezing – The coughing may produce cloudy pink mucus caused by fluid buildup in the lungs.
High heart rate – The heart compensating for it’s inability to keep up with blood supply.
Diagnosis of Heart Failure
Talking to your doctor is the first step in heart failure diagnosis and treatment. If a patient complains about any of the above symptoms, their doctor will ask about medical history, more information on symptoms and then conduct a physical exam. If the doctor believes there’s a chance heart failure is the problem, further tests may be taken including:
Stress test – You’ll be hooked up to monitoring equipment and slowly build up your physical exertion on a treadmill by starting to walk, then working up to jogging and other conditions such as an incline. The doctor will see how the heart and body react to sudden changes in physical activity.
Electrocardiogram (EKG) or echocardiography (echo) – Both are used to test the heart’s structure, motion and pumping rhythm. The EKG uses electrical pulses to read the heart, while the echo uses sound waves. These are both painless.
Diagnostic imaging – Your doctor my do a chest X-Ray or PET/CT scan to determine the functionality of the heart.
Cardiac catheterization – A tube is inserted in a blood vessel in your upper thigh or arm, with the tip of the tube positioned at the heart or arteries that supply the heart. A contrast dye is injected through the tube, which can be picked up by X-Rays. The pictures that are produced are called angiograms, and give an overview of how the heart, arteries and cardiovascular system are working.
Treating Heart Failure in Corpus Christi, TX
Most treatments are non-surgical and include medication, lifestyle changes, or just ongoing care. In severe cases, surgery or device implants may be necessary.
It’s important to know that while it is difficult to live with a chronic condition, many people go on to live happy and active lives. Typically, the people who get the full benefits of treatment and support are the patients willing to change their lives, stick to their treatment and properly manage their condition.
If you have any questions, contact Bay Cardiovascular Surgery at (361) 902-1722.