Heart failure

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Overview

In people with heart failure, the heart isn't able to pump enough blood around their body. As a result, their organs, muscles and other types of tissue do not get enough oxygen. Heart failure is also sometimes referred to as congestive heart failure (CHF) or cardiac insufficiency.


Heart failure can be acute, like after a heart attack, or it may develop over time, for example because of permanently high blood pressure or coronary artery disease.


Depending on how severe heart failure is, it may go unnoticed, only cause minor symptoms, or really affect your physical fitness. People who have advanced heart failure find it hard to carry out normal everyday activities. Various treatments can relieve the symptoms and help you live longer.

Symptoms

Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, swollen legs and rapid heartbeat.

People may experience:

Pain areas: in the chest

Cough: can be dry or with phlegm

Whole body: dizziness, fatigue, inability to exercise, or loss of appetite

Respiratory: fast breathing, shortness of breath at night, shortness of breath on exercise, or shortness of breath on lying down

Gastrointestinal: water retention or bloating

Also common: excess urination at night, palpitations, swollen feet, swollen legs, or weight gain

Shortness of breath with activity or when lying down.

Fatigue and weakness.

Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet.

Rapid or irregular heartbeat.

Reduced ability to exercise.

Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged mucus.

Swelling of the belly area (abdomen)

Causes

Heart failure is usually caused by another health problem that damages the heart muscle or the blood vessels. These are the most common causes:


Coronary artery disease (CAD)

Heart attack

High blood pressure

In coronary artery disease (CAD, also called coronary heart disease, or CHD), the arteries that supply the heart with oxygen-rich blood are too narrow. This can prevent the heart from getting enough blood, resulting in heart failure. In a heart attack, one of these blood vessels is blocked so suddenly that no blood can get through to part of the heart, and muscle tissue dies.


Constant high blood pressure can cause the blood vessels to lose their elasticity. The heart then has to work against higher resistance all the time. In order to counteract this problem and make sure that all parts of the body are supplied with blood, various changes occur in the body. For instance, the heart muscle grows larger and thicker, which increases the heart’s ability to pump blood at first. After a while, though, the muscle may harden or the heart chambers may become larger. In the long term, this can reduce the heart's ability to pump blood, eventually leading to heart failure.


Heart failure can also be caused by conditions affecting the heart muscle, the heart valves or the sac around the heart (pericardium). Examples of such conditions include inflammations, congenital heart muscle abnormalities, heart valve defects and abnormal heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation. Heart muscle tissue may also be damaged by alcohol abuse, drug abuse, or certain medications.

Risk factors

Coronary artery disease (CAD) (the most common type of heart disease) and heart attacks.

Diabetes.

High blood pressure.

Obesity.

Other Conditions Related to Heart Disease.

Valvular Heart Disease.


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Complications

Complications of heart failure depend on the severity of heart disease, your overall health and other factors such as your age. Possible complications can include: Kidney damage or failure. Heart failure can reduce the blood flow to your kidneys, which can eventually cause kidney failure if left untreated.

Prevention

Know your risk.

Eat a healthy diet.

Be physically active.

Watch your weight.

Live tobacco-free.

Manage conditions.

Take your medicine.

Be a team player.