What is Heart Failure? The heart pumps blood around the body. Heart failure sounds sudden and final but it doesn't mean that the heart stops working altogether, just that it is pumping less efficiently than it should. This means that it falls behind in its work. It doesn't pump enough blood to other organs and fluid backs up in the body.
Is that the same as a Heart Attack? No. In a heart attack, the hearts own blood supply (the Coronary Arteries) become blocked and some heart muscle dies as a result. A heart attack can cause heart failure but they are not the same disease process.
What are the symptoms of heart failure?
Often there are no symptoms in the early stages but eventually you may develope:
Tiredness and weakness - you may become tired carrying out even simple tasks
Shortness of breath - especially while lying flat or doing exercise
Swollen ankles, feet, back or belly - fluid is pushed out of the veins by the blood backing up at the heart causing swelling which can be painful.
If you notice any of these changes or sudden weight gain - talk to your GP. You could be suffering from Heart Failure.
What can cause Heart Failure?
The main causes of Heart Failure are listed below:
Ischaemic Heart Disease (e.g. after a Heart Attack)
High blood pressure
Faulty heart valves
Some drugs (including cocaine)
What treatment is available?
Medication - Some drugs improve symptoms and others slow or stop heart failure from progressing. Again it's important to keep taking them even when you feel well - they'll help you stay that way.
Implantable devices - some people with heart failure are at risk of developing unhealthy heart rhythms. Small devices called Pacemakers and Defibrillators can be placed under the skin on the chest to help with these problems.
Surgery - Some causes of heart failure can be corrected by surgery, for example repairing a damaged heart valve.
I have Heart Failure - how do I keep myself well?
Take your medicine - Even if you're feeling well you need to take your medication as instructed. They KEEP you feeling well.
Cut out salt - Salt increases your Blood Pressure and your overall blood volume, giving your heart more work to do. So don't use table salt and watch out for processed foods that are full of salt preservatives.
Lose weight - If you're overweight try to get yourself down to a healthy weight. That will ease your heart's workload.
Stop smoking - smoking worsens heart failure and increases the risk of a heart attack
Limit your alcohol intake - one or two units a day only (remember a pint of beer is 2 units!)
Stay active - Ask your doctor about what activities are safe for you to do. Try to exercise regularly but only to a level you are comfortable with.