Saturday, May 7, 2011

Causes And Symptoms Of Heart Failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot fi ll up with enough blood or pump the blood through the body with enough force. Because of the decreased blood fl ow, the body cannot function normally. Water builds up in the body because of the weak pumping function of the heart.

The most common cause of heart failure is damage to the muscles of the heart, as a result of previous heart attacks.

Who is at risk of heart failure?
The people at greatest risk are those who have had one or more heart attacks. The risk increases in people over the age of 65. People at risk may also have:

• high blood pressure;
• abnormal heart valves;
• rheumatic heart disease;
• congenital heart disease; or
• diabetes.

Less common causes are:
• heart muscle disease or infl ammation;
• severe lung disease; and
• thyroid disease.

What are the signs of heart failure?

In its early stages, the signs of heart failure often appear after physical activity. As the disease gets more severe, the symptoms last longer. They include:

• shortness of breath, or diffi culty breathing;
• tiredness and weakness;
• swelling of the ankles, feet, legs, or abdomen;
• weight gain from water build-up;
• coughing, especially at night or when lying down, including bloody, frothy sputum (spit).

What should I do if I think I am having heart failure?

Contact your doctor as soon as possible. Do not wait to see if the symptoms go away. Even if they pass quickly, they could be warning signs of serious illness. Sometimes heart failure starts suddenly, with severe shortness of breath. This is the result of water build-up in the lungs and needs to be treated right away.

Treating heart failure
The care you receive will depend on how severe your heart failure is. It will probably include:
• Diagnosis: This includes taking a history of your past health, a physical examination, and tests to fi nd the cause of the heart failure and the extent of the damage done to the heart.
• Short-term treatment: If you are acutely or severely ill, treatment will probably be given in hospital to relieve the symptoms and slow down or stop the cause of the heart failure.
• Long-term treatment: Heart failure can happen again and can get worse. To manage it, you will need regular follow-up with doctors, medicines, and changes in your lifestyle.

What you can do to help your treatment succeed?
• Take any medicine prescribed for you as instructed.
• Follow your doctor’s advice about lifestyle changes. This includes stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet, and taking exercise that your heart can handle.
• Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol reduces the power of your heart to pump blood. Sometimes, alcohol itself can be a cause of heart failure.
• Avoid crowds and people who have colds or fl u. An infection such as infl uenza or pneumonia would be an added burden to your heart.
• Watch your body weight. If you put on weight, it may mean that water is building up in your body because of weak heart function. Tell your doctor about any sudden increase in your body weight.

Medicines used to treat heart failure
Medicines used to treat heart failure include:
• diuretics (to get rid of excess water);
• angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (to relax blood vessels and reduce the burden on the heart) and cardiac glycosides, such as digoxin (to increase the strength of heart muscles and help the heart pump blood);
• medicines to relax the blood vessels;
• beta-blockers (to slow the heart rate and make the heart beat with less force).

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