What is Heart Failure?
Heart Failure is a condition in which the heart does not pump as well as it should. If you have heart failure, it does not mean that your heart is going to stop. A normal healthy heart pumps enough oxygen-rich blood out of the heart and into the system to nourish all parts of the body. Symptoms of heart failure may occur when the heart does not pump (eject blood) efficiently enough to meet these oxygen demands. Heart failure can be due to the heart not squeezing properly, or due to the heart not relaxing properly.
There are Two Types of Heart Failure:
Systolic heart failure occurs when the heart does not squeeze as well as it should, due to a weakened heart muscle.
Diastolic heart failure occurs when the heart squeezes well but cannot properly fill with blood because the muscle has thickened and has lost its ability to relax.
With systolic and/or diastolic heart failure, blood can “back up” into your lungs and other parts of your body such as your hands, abdomen (belly), legs, and feet. This “backing up” of fluid is sometimes referred to as “congestion” or congestive heart failure. Symptoms of heart failure are often due to “congestion,” but in some cases of moderate to severe systolic heart failure, symptoms can be due to the weak heart (or weak pumping action) without the presence of “congestion.”
Heart Failure Diagnosis
A heart failure diagnosis may sound frightening, but with the right treatment, a heart failure condition can be controlled. Once you are on a stable medical regimen, you can often return to a full and enjoyable life. Understanding your role in taking good care of yourself is important for gaining control of symptoms. While heart failure is a serious condition that requires ongoing management, you can keep your symptoms and hospital visits to a minimum just by careful attention and follow-up.
The severity of your heart failure condition can change over time, for better or worse, requiring alterations in your treatment. If your heart function improves over time, you may require less medication. If your heart function worsens over time, you may need to consider more advanced treatments. Keep in mind that these small changes can lead to broad improvements in your heart’s structure or function.
Your Physician Will:
- Determine the severity of your heart failure by taking into consideration what caused your heart problem to begin with (for example, a heart attack, long-standing high blood pressure, a virus, etc.) and how well you have responded to therapies. Because it is difficult to predict who will improve over time, regular follow-up is key to determining if your treatment is being optimized.
Determine how the rest of your body is affected by your heart condition. For example, is enough blood flowing to your kidneys or the large muscles of your legs and arms to keep them working properly?
- Evaluate if there are any extra work demands on your heart that can make your condition worse, like, obesity and untreated high blood pressure. Anything that causes extra work demands for your weakened heart muscle needs to be addressed so that your heart function has the opportunity to improve, or at least stabilize to afford you the best possible quality of life.
- The severity of your heart failure condition is ultimately determined by your heart’s ability to do its job, your body’s ability to adapt to these changes, and your ability to be a partner in your care.
Your Physician Will Make a Heart Failure Diagnosis Based on:
- Medical History: talking with you and asking questions about your symptoms and past medical history
- Physical Exam: listening to your heart and lung sounds, looking at and touching your skin, feeling for the presence of fluid and signs that may indicate heart or lung problems, and other exams as needed.
- Diagnostic Tests: specific tests that are used to evaluate the heart function and/or structure, such as echocardiograms (ultrasound of the heart), stress tests, exercise tests, or coronary angiograms. Blood tests also provide useful information about how well your body is functioning.)