World Heart Day: All you should know about heart failure and treatment

Updated: Sep 29, 2019, 10:00 IST | Soumil Kamat | Mumbai

On World Heart Day, here's all you need to know about heart failure and treatment

This picture has been used for representational picture
This picture has been used for representational picture

Heart failure which is sometimes also known as congestive heart failure occurs when your heart muscle doesn't pump blood as well as it should. On World Heart Day, Dr Santosh Kumar Dora, Senior Cardiologist, Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai tells you all you need to know about heart failure and treatment.

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a condition in which a weakened heart is unable to pump the normal amount of blood carrying oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Heart failure cannot be termed as a disease but is a chronic syndrome that generally develops slowly. If heart failure is mild, it may not significantly affect a person's lifestyle and day-to-day living. While heart failure is a serious condition, it is not necessarily the death sentence that its name suggests. Thousands of heart failure patients live well with this condition.

What are the symptoms?

Many people with heart failure remain undiagnosed because their symptoms are often overlooked, ignored, or attributed to ageing and in today’s times often attributed to excess stress. In the early stages, heart failure may not have any symptoms; however, in later stages, it will become severe. Common heart failure symptoms include breathlessness on exertion or rest, easy fatigability, excessive tiredness with minimal physical activity, swelling in ankle regions. In severe cases there may be symptoms of not able to lie down, cough and breathlessness during sleep, often tending to sit up during sleep, excess of fluid retention around the ankle and lower part of legs etc.

Also Read: Reduce stress for a healthy heart

Why does heart failure set in?

Here are some reasons why you could face heart failure.

Chronic high blood pressure: When the blood pressure is very high, the heart has to work much harder to pump blood through the arteries. This results in enlargement of the heart, especially the left ventricle, which is the heart's main pumping chamber, making it less efficient.

Coronary artery disease: The build-up of cholesterol and fatty substances or plaque on the walls of the arteries may decrease the blood supply to the heart muscle to do its work.

A previous heart attack: The heart muscle may have lost its strength or weakened because of a previous heart attack. During a heart attack, the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen, resulting in tissue death and scarring. The development of heart failure depends on the extent and location of the scarring.

Diseased heart valves: A narrowed or leaking heart valve fails to direct blood flow properly through the heart. The problem may be something you were born with, an inherited condition, or the result of an infection and degenerative condition with advanced age.

Irregular heart rate: Medically known as cardiac arrhythmia, irregular heart rates can lead to heart failure, but they usually have to be severe and last a long time. They change the pattern of filling and pumping of blood from the heart.

Cardiomyopathy: Disease of the heart muscle itself can lead to heart failure. Causes of cardiomyopathy include infection, alcohol abuse, cocaine abuse, and family predisposition.

World Heart Day: All you should know about heart failure and treatmentThis picture has been used for representational purpose

What is the difference between heart attack and heart failure?

A person suffers a heart attack when blood flow to the heart gets blocked often by a blood clot or a build-up of plaque in the arteries. Such a lack of blood flow to the heart can seriously damage the heart muscle. Heart failure, on the other hand, is a condition where the heart muscles are weak and not able to pump the blood as per the body’s requirement. This condition is known as systolic heart failure. Another condition is known as diastolic heart failure, where, heart muscles are stiff and thus do not expand properly to receive blood into its chambers.

It is possible that a heart attack can lead to heart failure by weakening the heart's pumping ability. Occasionally a person suffers a heart failure suddenly after a heart attack. This is called acute heart failure.

What is the treatment for heart failure and preventive measures?

Though it may not be fully cured in many instances, heart failure can be successfully managed with your doctor’s help and advances in medical technology, the patient can feel better and subsequently see their quality of life improving.

A treatment plan for heart failure may vary from person to person. It's important to take adequate medical treatment at the onset of this condition itself.

World Heart Day: All you should know about heart failure and treatmentThis picture is used for representational purpose

Some of the common plans may include some or all of the following:

  • Medications to strengthen your heart's pumping action, medication to decrease the load on the heart, medication to optimise heart rate help improving the symptoms and strengthening the heart muscles.
  • Changes in the amount of your physical activity
  • Setting limits on the amount of salt and fat in your diet
  • Increasing the potassium in your diet, if instructed
  • Losing weight if necessary
  • Reducing your fluid intake, if necessary
  • Implantation of cardiac resynchronisation device to synchronise cardiac contractility.
  • In very severe cases heart transplantation is recommended.

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