This condition is aptly named as it means your heart has “failed” or stopped working in a normal way. This means your heart doesn’t pump as strongly as it needs to. This type of condition will cause your body to hold in salt and water, resulting in swelling and shortness of breath. Heart failure is a major health problem affecting more than 6.5 million people, making it the leading cause of hospitalization in people 65 and older. While heart failure may come on suddenly, it is most often a chronic condition. The condition often involves both sides of the heart, however, it may affect only the right or left side.
There are two main types of heart failure. Systolic heart failure (with a reduced ejection fraction, HFrEF) occurs when the heart cannot effectively pump the blood out of the heart. Diastolic heart failure (with preserved ejection fraction, HFpEF) occurs when stiffness in the heart muscle prevents it from filling up with blood.
As the condition worsens the heart weakens and becomes less effective as a pumping mechanism, which can cause blood to back up in other areas of the body. When this results in fluid build up in the lungs and liver, gastrointestinal tract, arms, and legs it is called congestive heart failure.
The most common causes of heart failure are:
- Coronary artery disease (CAD), a hardening and narrowing of arteries to the heart
- High blood pressure
- Congenital heart disease
- Heart attack
- Heart valves that are leaky or narrowed
- Infection that weakens the heart muscle
- Some types of abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
Other diseases that can cause or contribute to heart failure include:
- Overactive thyroid
- Severe anemia
- Too much iron in the body
- Underactive thyroid
Common symptoms are:
- Fatigue, weakness, faintness
- Loss of appetite
- Pulse that feels fast or irregular, or a sensation of feeling the heartbeat (palpitations)
- Shortness of breath when you are active or after you lie down
- Swollen (enlarged) liver or abdomen
- Swollen feet and ankles
- Waking up from sleep after a couple of hours due to shortness of breath
- Weight gain
If you have heart failure, your provider will monitor you closely by requesting follow-up visits at least every 3 to 6 months, but sometimes more often, and possibly a regimen of medications. You will also have tests to check your heart function and sometimes your provider will want you to start on a healthier eating regime.