Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, is a chronic condition of the heart where the heart muscle cannot pump enough blood for the body. The heart is still functional, and it usually compensates by stretching, pumping faster, and adding muscle mass. These mechanisms help at first, however they don't solve the problem.
There are three types of heart failure, also called congestive heart failure:
- Left-side heart failure: the heart can't pump enough blood to the body.
- Right-side heart failure: the heart can't fill with enough blood
- Cor pulmonale: right-side heart failure which is caused by high blood pressure in the right ventricle (lower chamber of the right side of the heart) and the pulmonary arteries.
- Systolic heart failure
The signs and symptoms of heart failure can be temporary or ongoing, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, a persistent cough, frequent urination, lack of appetite, nausea, etc.
You should seek emergency treatment if you notice any of the following signs or symptoms: chest pain, severe weakness or fainting, rapid or irregular heartbeat, or sudden and severe shortness of breath, as well as coughing up foamy, pink mucus.
The causes of heart failure usually involve damage to the heart from other chronic conditions. Heart failure can arise from the heart being weakened or damaged, or from it becoming stiff. Causes of heart failure include diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain heart-related conditions.
Risk factors for heart failure include being overweight, a history of a heart attack, and congenital heart defects. Heart conditions like valvular heart disease and arrhythmias can also be risk factors for developing heart failure. Heart failure is also more common in certain demographics: people above the age of 65 and people in the black community are more likely to have heart failure.
Heart failure can be prevented by maintaining lifestyle habits like regular exercise, managing stress, and a healthy diet. These habits can help control the risk factors for heart failure, so they help to prevent heart failure. For some people who are at high risk for heart failure, medications and ongoing care from a physician can help keep the risk of heart failure as low as possible.
There are four stages of heart failure treatment: Stage A, B, C, and D.
- Stage A is also called pre-heart failure, it basically means that you are at risk for developing heart failure. The treatment plan for patients with stage A heart failure usually includes treatment for high blood pressure, for high cholesterol levels, as well as quitting smoking and exercising regularly. Treatments for stage A may also involve medications for high blood pressure or any other cardiac or vascular conditions the patient may have.
- Stage B means that the patient has a diagnosis of systolic dysfunction in the lower left chamber of the heart. A person with stage B heart failure may have a reduced ejection fraction. There are certain procedures available, such as valve repair or replacement at this stage of heart failure.
- Stage C heart failure is the point at which a person is diagnosed with heart failure and has experienced symptoms. Treatments available for stage C still include the treatments for stages A and B, however the treatment plan may involve treatment for the symptoms that the patient may currently be experiencing. A patient with stage C heart failure may also receive implantable cardiac defibrillator therapy, or cardiac resynchronization therapy using a pacemaker.
- Patients with stage D heart failure are experiencing advanced symptoms that are not improving with their treatment plan. Advanced treatment options at this stage can include a heart transplant, surgery, palliative care, etc.
Patients with heart failure should set a treatment plan with their doctor in order to relieve symptoms and make daily life easier. Taking medicines as prescribed, following advice for lifestyle changes, keeping up with testing and lab work can help to prevent heart failure from getting worse. Patients living with heart failure should follow their set diet, avoid alcohol, and exercise according to their doctor's advice.