Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart muscle fails to supply adequate forward blood flow to vital organs.
Systolic heart failure results when the heart muscle is weakened by processes such as heart attacks alcohol abuse, infections, or rare disorders affecting the heart muscle itself.
Diastolic heart failure results when the heart muscle fails to relax properly. Like a spring that stores energy as it is stretched, the heart muscle does the same. When it loses this elasticity, or “spring-like quality,” diastolic heart failure results.
Despite its misleading name, “heart failure” does not mean that your heart suddenly stops working. Instead, heart failure develops slowly as your heart muscle gradually weakens. The term “failure” refers to your heart’s inability to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.
As the heart muscle weakens other problems can result:
The heart’s electrical system can become disrupted. This can lead to sudden cardiac death (SCD). In fact SCD is 6-9 times more common in people with heart failure than in the general population.
- The heart can become enlarged. The heart tries to work harder since it is not able to pump enough blood. Over time, the heart can grow larger.
- Not enough blood flows to your body’s tissues.
- Not enough blood flows to the kidneys. If your kidneys do not receive enough blood, you may have water retention, swelling (in the legs and feet), and high blood pressure. All of these problems can also cause the heart to work harder.
The causes of heart failure vary from one person to another. The one thing these causes have in common is that they damage the heart muscle so that it no longer pumps as well as it should. Nearly any form of heart or blood vessel disease can lead to heart failure.
Tests Used to Diagnose Heart Failure
The test results can also help your doctor choose the best treatment(s) for you. Tests used to help diagnose heart failure may include:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)
- Echocardiogram (ultrasound)
- Cardiac catheterization
- Electrophysiology (EP) study
- MRI or CT scan
Medical therapy forms the cornerstone of therapy for heart failure. A combination of drugs are required to manage heart failure and have been shown to improve long term survival in patients. However, some patients may not tolerate the side effects of these medications.
Symptoms of Heart Failure
Symptoms of heart failure get worse over time. The most common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath – this may get worse when you lie down.
- Fatigue – this happens because your muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen from your blood.
- Chronic cough – this is due to fluid buildup in the lungs.
- Fluid retention – this happens especially in the legs and feet.
Other symptoms can include heart palpitations. This is a feeling that your heart is racing or that your heartbeat is irregular. Some people also have nausea and lack of appetite, dizziness, fainting spells, or difficulty concentrating.