This brochure has been developed by Jackson Heart Clinic to help you understand Heart Failure. The cardiologists and staff know that an informed patient can better participate in decisions that impact health care. Working with you, we can better diagnose your problem and start treatment that will help prevent heart failure from becoming worse and help you enjoy life as fully as possible. Although heart failure can occur at any age, the following information focuses on heart failure in adults.
What is it?
The term heart failure does not mean that your heart has stopped working. Heart failure means that your heart is not pumping well enough to meet the needs of the body. Heart failure may mean that the heart is not filling well with blood. It may also mean that the heart cannot pump blood out with adequate force. Sometimes both problems are present with heart failure. Heart failure also means that there is increased pressure within the heart itself.
As a result of these conditions of heart failure, the chambers of the heart respond by stretching to hold more blood and/or thickening to build up muscle to work harder. While these changes may help temporarily, the heart simply does not work as well — it doesn't fill or empty effectively as it pumps. Kidneys also respond to these changes by causing the body to retain fluid (water and sodium). When that happens, fluid can build up in the arms, legs, ankles, feet, lungs, and other organs (congestion). When the body becomes congested with extra fluid, it is known as congestive heart failure.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 5.8 million people in the United States have heart failure, and the number of people affected is growing. It is the leading cause of hospitalization among people on Medicare.
What causes heart failure?
The most common causes of heart failure are coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Treating these problems can prevent or improve heart failure. There are other ways the heart muscle can be damaged, leading to heart failure. Often, heart failure is caused by a combination of the factors listed below.
In addition to the causes listed, some medical treatments for cancer, such as radiation and chemotherapy, can injure the heart muscle and lead to heart failure. Thyroid disease, HIV/AIDS, and too much vitamin E are also known to injure the heart muscle. Alcohol abuse, cocaine, and other illegal drug use can also cause heart failure.
What are the symptoms of heart failure?
A person who has heart failure may not have symptoms. When symptoms are present, they range from mild to severe. Symptoms also may not be constant — they often come and go. Major symptoms are listed below.
Shortness of breath occurs because of fluid build-up in the lungs or because the body is simply not getting the oxygen it needs (because the heart is not pumping effectively). Shortness of breath may be experienced during exercise or while resting. It also may awaken you from sleep at night. Like many other symptoms, shortness of breath may be constant or it may come and go.
A dry, hacking cough or wheezing may occur and be more common at night and when lying down.
Weight gain or swelling in the ankles, legs, and abdomen may occur because of the lack of blood flow to the kidneys. When the kidneys do not function well, fluid cannot be moved out of the body as effectively, causing fluid to build up in the body (fluid retention), swelling (edema) and weight gain. The need to urinate while resting at night may also be related to heart failure.
How is heart failure diagnosed?
Your cardiologist will diagnose heart failure based on a combination of your medical and family histories, physical examination, and test results. The signs and symptoms of heart failure also occur in other conditions, so an accurate medical diagnosis is very important to determine the treatment that you need.
Your cardiologist may order the following tests.
Classifications or stages of heart failure:
What are the treatments for heart failure?
When heart failure is diagnosed and treated early, the outcome is better — people live longer, with more active lives. Working with you as a partner, your cardiologist will prescribe treatment based on your specific type of heart failure, the degree of heart failure and your personal choices.
Goals of treatment may include improving the function of your heart, treating an underlying cause of heart failure (such as diabetes), reducing symptoms, preventing heart failure from getting worse, improving your quality of life and increasing your lifespan.
Treatment for heart failure may include one or more of the following:
1. Lifestyle Changes
Simple changes in your lifestyle can improve how you feel and help keep heart failure from worsening. These changes are really important and need to be done as soon as possible for the best result!
Based on the severity and type of heart failure, your cardiologist will prescribe medications that may include one or more of the following:
3. Medical Procedures and Surgery
When lifestyle changes and medicines do not control heart failure symptoms, a medical procedure or surgery may be recommended. These may include a pacemaker or defibrillator implantation. Less often, a mechanical heart pump or a heart transplant may be suggested. The mechanical heart pump is usually considered as a temporary solution for those who are awaiting a heart transplant as a long-term solution for heart failure.
When should I call my cardiologist?
You should call 911 or emergency services immediately if you suddenly experience any of these potentially life-threatening symptoms:
For those that have been prescribed nitroglycerin, call for emergency help if chest pain is not relieved five minutes after taking one nitroglycerin tablet.
You should call/notify your cardiologist soon and schedule an appointment if you experience any of the following or if your usual symptoms get worse:
Everyday ways to help your heart
There are many ways that you can help yourself live with heart failure. Start by making the lifestyle changes recommended by your cardiologist and ask questions about anything that you don’t understand.
You should also watch for signs that heart failure is getting worse. The following tips will also help:
This brochure has provided thorough information about heart failure symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Although heart failure can be serious and even life threatening, it can be treated so that your symptoms are manageable and the progress of the disease lessened. With your new knowledge of the problem, you can work with your cardiologist at Jackson Heart Clinic to develop a plan that works best for you and your unique needs. It is our goal for you to have the highest possible level of cardiovascular health!
Explore these resources for more information about Heart Failure.
Heart Failure Society of America, Inc.
For general information and linkages: https://www.hfsa.org/
For educational materials
WebMD Heart Failure Health Center
American College of Cardiology: Cardio Smart