Heart & Vascular Specialists of Oklahoma
Rakesh Shrivastava MD, FACC • Venkat Rajaram MD, MS
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The term "heart failure" is somewhat misleading. It doesn't mean that your heart has stopped or that is about to stop. It simply means that the heart is not working sufficiently. When the heart can't pump enough blood to keep up with the what the body demands, patients suffer from heart failure. Sometimes, the heart just won't hold enough blood. In other cases, the heart doesn't pump with enough force to carry circulation. Sometimes, people experience both problems. I

Heart failure occurs when one or both sides of the heart grows weaker and can no longer keep up with pumping blood for the body. It happens over time and can affect only one side, or both sides of the heart. Most people with heart failure will experience weakness on both sides.  Patients will experience right-side heart failure when the heart can't pump enough blood to the lungs to supply a source of oxygen.This can cause fluid to build up in the ankles, legs, liver, abdomen, feet and in the circulatory system. Patients may notice a shortness of breath and feel tired easily.

When left-side heart failure occurs, the heart can't supply enough blood to the rest of the bod, leaving patients with a shortness of breath and fatigue. Patients often report that they symptoms grew worse over time, rather than noticing a marked change.

The leading cause of heart failure is heart disease and the diseases that include heart complications. Patients with coronary heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure should talk with their doctors about the chance of developing heart failure. Diet, medications and lifestyle changes can make a big difference.

• Shortness of Breath (Dyspnea) - When the heart begins to fail, blood backs up in the veins attempting to carry oxygenated blood from the lungs to the heart. As fluid pools in the lungs, it interferes with normal breathing. In turn, you may experience breathlessness during exercise or other activities. As the condition worsens, shortness of breath may occur when at rest or asleep. 

• Fatigue - When the heart is unable to pump the amount of blood required to meet all of the body's needs it circumvents blood from less-crucial areas, including the arms and legs, to supply the heart and brain. As a result, people with heart failure can feel weak (especially in their arms and legs), tired and have difficulty performing ordinary activities such as walking or climbing short stairs.

• Chronic Cough or Wheezing - The lungs may build up fluid called phlegm (a thick, mucous-like substance) that causes you to cough or wheeze. Sometimes the phlegm may be tinged with blood.

• Irregular Heartbeat - As the heart works harder, it may speed up the amount of times it beats - or cause the beats to be irregular at times. Patients often report different feelings, ranging from a hard pounding sensation to a slight fluttering.

• Lack of Appetite or Nausea - your liver and digestive system work best when their is optimal blood flow. Patients with heart failure often report changes in their appetite ranging from nausea after a meal, to loosing their appetite altogether. 

• Mental Confusion - When your blood is not flowing properly it can change the chemical balance in your body. Excessive sodium in the blood and reduced blood flow to the brain can cause memory loss or disorientation, which you may or may not be aware of.

• Fluid Buildup & Swelling - The kidneys produce hormones which can cause salt and water retention. This swelling, also called edema, occurs most often in the feet, ankles and legs.

• Rapid Weight Gain - As your body retains water, you may notice that you gain weight quickly.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help people who have heart failure live longer, more active lives. Treatment for heart failure will depend on the type and stage of heart failure (the severity of the condition). Treatments include:

  • Treating the underlying cause, such as coronary heart disease (CHD), high blood pressure, or diabetes
  • Reducing symptoms
  • Stopping the heart failure from getting worse
  • Increasing your lifespan and improving your quality of life
  • Ongoing care with lifestyle changes and medicines
  • Some people may require surgery

If your doctor diagnosis you with heart failure, you are not along. More than 5 million people in the US have this very common condition. It is not necessarily an age related condition, as it usually brought on by some other condition. Both children and adults can have the condition,although the symptoms and treatment may be different.

As of now, there is no cure for heart failure, but properly maintaining the condition can help you live longer with a more active life. Medications, diet, and lifestyle changes can all lead to a more productive quality of life. Research is ongoing and will continue to offer new ways to treat heart failure.