LIVING WITH HEART FAILURE
Heart Failure is a serious condition that afflicts over 5 million people a year in the Unites States alone1. It is important to understand that Heart Failure does not mean the heart stops working. Heart Failure is actually a condition that develops overtime. Simply put, in patient’s who have Heart Failure their heart can not pump blood effectively. The pump is in a slump, so to speak. Taking measures to prevent Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is one way to help prevent Heart Failure. Diseases that damage the heart are the main cause of Heart Failure. These may include CAD, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Understanding the Heart
First, let’s review the way the heart works. This will help you better understand the way that Heart Failure affects the heart.
The heart muscle has four chambers. The two upper chambers are known as the atria. There is a right atrium and a left atrium. The two bottom chambers are known as the ventricles. There is a right ventricle and a left ventricle.
Each of these chambers has a different job. The right atrium receives used blood from the body. As pressure builds up in the heart, the right atrium passes blood to the right ventricle. The right ventricle eventually pumps blood out to the lungs. The used blood is re-oxygenated in the lungs. As soon as this process occurs, oxygenated blood travels back to the left atrium. As the pressure builds, the left atrium passes blood to the left ventricle. The left ventricle is the biggest chamber, as it has the biggest job. It is responsible for pumping freshly oxygenated blood to all vital organs in the body.
Diagnosing Heart Failure
Heart Failure can affect both sides of the heart, or the right side alone. Right and left sided heart failure is the most common, and is referred to as left sided heart failure. Left sided heart failure is diagnosed when the heart can’t properly pump oxygen rich blood to the body.
When the heart can’t properly pump blood to the lungs, right side heart failure is diagnosed. This can be dangerous as fluid may build up in the feet, ankles, legs, liver or abdomen. Both right and left sided heart failure may cause fatigue and shortness of breath, or trouble breathing. All of these are symptoms of Heart Failure, as well as swelling in the ankles, feet, legs and abdomen.
Before a diagnosis of Heart Failure can be made, physicians must rule out other causes for these symptoms. It is also important for physicians to determine what disease or condition is causing the heart failure (CAD, hypertension, diabetes). Once a diagnosis has been made, physicians must determine how efficiently your heart is pumping blood, and how much it has been damaged.
Heart Failure doesn’t have to Mean Life Failure
Just because you have been diagnosed with heart failure, it does not necessarily mean your quality of life will fail. There has been great progress made in the treatment of Heart Failure. However, there is no cure for Heart Failure at this time. External Counterpulsation (ECP) therapy, implantable defibrillators, various medications, and lifestyle changes are often used to combat and treat Heart Failure.
1 National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/heartfailure.html