Heart failure is a progressive condition in which the heart’s muscle becomes weakened after it is injured from something like a heart attack or high blood pressure and gradually loses its ability to pump enough blood to supply the body’s needs. Many people don’t even know they have it because its symptoms are often mistaken for signs of getting older. Heart failure does not develop overnight - it’s a progressive disease that starts slowly and gets worse over time.
The symptoms of heart failure may be subtle and are often mistaken for normal signs of aging.
Common symptoms of heart failure are:
- Shortness of breath, which can happen even during mild activity
- Difficulty breathing when lying down
- Weight gain with swelling in the legs and ankles from fluid retention
- General fatigue and weakness
Heart failure results after injury to the heart. The risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- Prior heart attack
- Enlarged heart
- Increasing age
- History of heart murmurs
How it is Diagnosed:
Only your doctor can tell if you have heart failure. The doctor should review your medical history and conduct a full examination.
Physicians often order a number of tests when exploring a possible diagnosis of heart failure.
- Echocardiogram (echo) - this test tells what your ejection fraction (EF) is. The ejection fraction is a measurement of how well your heart is pumping. People with a healthy heart have an EF of about 60 percent, while people with heart failure have an EF of 40 percent or less.
- Electrocardiocgram, or “EKG” or “ECG”
- Chest X-ray
Currently there is no cure for heart failure, but with early diagnosis and newer treatments, people with heart failure are able to continue enjoying their everyday activities and have a more normal life expectancy. Experts now recommend a three to four drug combination to treat heart failure.
- Diuretics or “water pills” - help control symptoms by reducing fluid retention and swelling
- Digoxin - helps control symptoms by improving blood circulation
- ACE inhibitors - can slow down disease progression by dilating or widening blood vessels which increases blood flow
- Beta blockers - can slow down disease progression by strengthening the heart’s pumping ability by blocking the body’s response to substances which can damage the heart
How common is heart failure?
Heart failure is common, but unrecognized and often misdiagnosed. It affects nearly 5 million Americans. An estimated 400,000 to 700,000 new cases of heart failure are diagnosed each year.
How can I learn to live with heart failure?
- See your physician regularly
- Limit your salt intake
- Weigh yourself each day - contact your healthcare provider if your weight changes more than 2-3 pounds in one day
- Take your medications
- Exercise at levels recommended by your physician