What is heart failure and what causes it?

Woman, mid 60s holding heart.


If you are looking to gain insight into heart failure, its treatments and management strategies, then this article is for you.

Heart failure is a common but serious condition that can be hard to understand. Because “heart failure” implies that the heart is no longer working, it’s easy to think of it as a death sentence. This simply isn’t true.

So what is heart failure?

Heart failure is caused by structural or functional abnormalities within the heart. These abnormalities mean the heart cannot pump an adequate amount of oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood to the body’s organs and tissues.

Risk factors

Medical conditions such as coronary artery disease, heart attacks, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, valvular heart disease and other chronic heart conditions can raise your risk of developing heart failure.

Engaging in unhealthy behaviors can also increase your risk of heart failure. These include:

· Eating foods high in fat and cholesterol.

· Eating excessive amounts of sodium.

· Smoking tobacco.

· Not getting enough exercise.

· Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

Ischemic cardiomyopathy

There are many possible causes of heart failure; however, the most common cause is ischemic cardiomyopathy — a type of heart failure that occurs when the heart does not receive enough oxygen. The heart’s left ventricle becomes enlarged and weakened, significantly reducing its pumping power. A heart attack, coronary artery disease or long-term hypertension can cause this.

Signs and symptoms

Common signs include:

· Swelling in the legs, typically both legs.

· Shortness of breath.

· Trouble sleeping due to difficulty breathing that does not improve by taking deep breaths.

Other associated symptoms may include chest pain or uncontrolled hypertension. If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to contact your physician immediately, as it is essential to manage heart failure quickly and adequately. If you think you are having a heart attack, dial 911.

Treatment options

Your doctor may recommend coronary bypass surgery or a procedure such as valve repair to treat the underlying problem that led to heart failure. Medications are sometimes prescribed to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow, decreasing the strain on the heart.

Living with and managing heart failure

Managing the condition is a challenge, but there are things you can do to keep symptoms from worsening.

Regularly monitor your weight. Weighing yourself every morning can alert you to changes in body fluid that indicate a worsening of heart failure. Unexpected gains or losses could signal the need for medical attention.

Calculate fluid intake. Keeping track of your fluid intake is essential to ensure you don’t get dehydrated and to prevent fluid build-up.

Minimize salt intake. A diet high in sodium can cause water retention and lead to bloating, swelling or puffiness. Consuming excessive amounts of sodium can worsen existing high blood pressure. A low-sodium diet places less strain on your heart and helps to maintain or improve your heart health.

Get regular physical activity. Studies have shown that regular physical activity can help protect our cardiovascular health and improve energy levels, aiding the body in better circulation and more efficient oxygen use.

Get educated. It is important to educate yourself with the help of a trusted medical team. You can also find credible and trustworthy resources online. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage is a good starting point. Be sure to explore the links at the bottom of its web page.

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