Heart failure is when the heart is too damaged or weakened to move blood throughout the body, particularly during increased physical activity or while under stress.
Additionally, the heart muscle may be unable to relax enough to accommodate blood flow from the lungs back to the heart, causing fluid to back up in the lungs and other body parts, such as the ankles. In some of these cases, the fluid in the lungs can accumulate, causing a life-threatening condition called acute pulmonary edema, which requires emergency treatment.
CausesHeart failure can occur suddenly or develop slowly over years. The most common causes are:
- Heart attacks – which cause long-term damage to the heart
- High blood pressure – which puts extra strain on the heart
- Cardiomyopathy – a disease of the heart muscle
Less common causes of heart failure include:
- Damaged/diseased heart valves
- Congenital heart defects
- A viral infection affecting the heart muscle
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Thyroid gland disease
SymptomsWhen your heart isn’t pumping well, the main symptoms you’re likely to experience are:
- Shortness of breath, especially when lying flat
- Swollen feet, ankles, stomach, and lower back area
- Feeling unusually tired or weak
- Bloating or feeling full all the time
- Loss of or change in appetite
- Increased urination at night
Diagnosis Your doctor will speak to you about your symptoms, medical history, conduct a physical examination, and run a few tests to determine whether you have heart failure.
These tests could include:
- Blood test and BNP test
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Chest X-ray
- Stress test
- Coronary angiogram
TreatmentWhile there is no cure for heart failure currently, your doctor may recommend medication, surgery, and lifestyle changes such as healthy eating and physical activity. These treatments allow many people to lead full and healthy lives, manage symptoms, and prevent the condition from worsening.