What is Heart Failure ?

By: Pharma Tips | Views: 18475 | Date: 11-Apr-2012

Heart failure is a serious heart condition but it doesn’t mean that your heart stops completely, as it does in a heart attack. The heart carries on working but not very efficiently. It is like an engine that is getting worn out – it fails to pump blood round the body in the same way that it used to. People can live with heart failure for months, even years. It can be a disabling health problem but various treatments are available to improve symptoms and make the heart work more normally.

What is Heart Failure?

What is Heart Failure

Heart failure is a serious heart condition but it doesn’t mean that your heart stops completely, as it does in a heart attack. The heart carries on working but not very efficiently. It is like an engine that is getting worn out – it fails to pump blood round the body in the same way that it used to. People can live with heart failure for months, even years. It can be a disabling health problem but various treatments are available to improve symptoms and make the heart work more normally.

Heart Failure in Different Parts of the Heart
The heart is a muscular pump that consists of four separate chambers. Heart failure can affect different parts of the muscle; one side may be affected more than the other side. In people who have right-sided heart failure, the right ventricle is the most severely affected. This is the part of the heart responsible for pumping freshly oxygenated blood out into the body.

As the right ventricle fails, blood isn’t pumped out as strongly, and blood doesn’t return to the heart properly either. The capillaries, the small blood vessels in the arms and legs, become distended and circulation becomes sluggish. Fluid then builds up in the tissues, causing swelling in the arms and legs, swelling in the abdomen and fluid in the lungs. This causes some breathlessness and coughing, which is worse when lying down.

Left sided heart failure means that the left ventricle is failing. This is responsible for pumping blood out to the lungs to collect oxygen. When this becomes inefficient, the first and most severe symptom is breathlessness, which can occur even when the person affected is just resting. Any sort of exertion is impossible.

What Causes Heart Failure?
Heart failure has many causes, including a heart attack, high blood pressure, a problem with one of the valves of the heart, and any infection that attacks the heart muscle. It usually occurs in people over 65 and is less common in younger people. Some lifestyle factors increase the risk of heart failure, including smoking, being obese and leading a very sedentary lifestyle.

How is Heart Failure Diagnosed and Treated?
If the symptoms suggest heart failure, the usual first step to diagnosis is to have an echocardiogram, which uses ultrasound to investigate how well the heart is pumping blood. This can identify which part of the heart is affected, and can help doctors decide on the most effective treatment. An electrocardiogram – ECG – can also be used to detect any problems in heart rhythm. Blood tests for specific cardiac markers that rise in cases of heart failure may also be done.

The main treatment for chronic heart failure involves taking different kinds of cardiac drugs. The main drugs are from the family of ACE inhibitors, which have been shown in large trials to reduce symptoms and extend the life of someone with serious heart failure. Diuretics are also often used to help the body expel the excess fluid that builds up in the tissues and one the lungs. Beta blockers can also help.
In its early stages, heart failure can also be treated by making lifestyle changes. People are advised to cut down on the amount of salt they take in, and sometimes may have to restrict the amounts of fluid they drink. Although some people think they need to rest to stop their heart wearing out even more, the opposite is true. Moderate and regular exercise can improve the condition of the heart muscle and can reduce symptoms quite dramatically.

Explaining Heart Disease

Heart disease is a very wide term given to loosely describe many disorders of the heart, surrounding tissues and the blood supply, it is one of the leading causes of death in adults and although it can affect anyone of any age or background, it can be highly influenced by lifestyle choices.

Types of Heart Disease
There are many different types of heart conditions that fall under this umbrella and include, but are not limited to, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, inflammatory disorders, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease and congenital heart disease.

Cardiomyopathy is used to describe disorders of and deterioration of the actual muscular tissue of the heart. There are many types of cardiomyopathy, each having its own causes, treatments and preventative methods.

Heart Failure
Heart failure occurs as the hearts ability to function deteriorates and is unable to pump the blood around the body as effectively as it once did.
Inflammatory Heart Disease
Inflammatory disorders of the heart occur often as a result of infection and disorders such as endocarditis and myocarditis fall into this category. The tissues of the heart become irritated and inflamed and can also affect the tissues surrounding the heart as well.

Coronary Heart Disease
If the blood supply to the tissues of the heart itself become blocked or compromised such as in the coronary arteries, this is called coronary heart disease and heart attacks are a common consequence of this occurring.

Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease is associated with damage or dysfunction to the blood vessels that flow in and out of the heart, supplying blood to the rest of the body. It is another wide term and there are many sub-categories within this domain.

Congenital Heart Disease
Congenital heart disease means problems that have existed since birth often due to developmental or genetic factors, most that have occurred during foetal growth and development in the womb.

Treating Heart Disease
As heart disease encompasses many sub-categories of the illness, it would be impossible to briefly describe the treatment options. Each individual will have their own treatment plan, investigations and interventions depending on the causes, severity and existing medical conditions. If chest pain and breathing troubles occur at any time, immediate medical assistance should be sought as this may indicate a very serious cardiac condition that needs urgent attention.

Preventing Heart Disease
Although some conditions that fall under the term ‘heart disease’ cannot necessarily be prevented, especially those that are congenital, there are ways to help maintain a healthy heart and protect it from developing some of the mentioned conditions or from symptoms worsening.

These methods mainly involved the selection of healthy lifestyle options such as maintaining a steady healthy weight that is recommended for your age build and participation of activities, refraining from smoking and drinking heavily, looking after existing medical conditions as far as is possible, keeping active and managing stress levels effectively. Regular check-ups with your GP will highlight any existing areas that may need addressing, along with treatment for any existing conditions.

Heart disease is a very broad term given to describe a number of cardiac conditions and is a useful expression for the general public that avoids the use of medical terminology and helps individuals understand their condition.
Congenital Heart Disease Explained

Congenital heart disease or CHD is a name used to describe those heart disorders that have been present since birth. Usually relating to structural defects that have occurred whilst the developing foetus is growing in the uterus, CHD can prevent the normal function of the heart and can range from a slight defect to one that severely compromises the pumping ability of the heart and the flow of blood around the body.

Types of Congenital Heart Disease

As the heart is a complex arrangement and encompasses many different structures, functions and tissues, there are a number of possible types of congenital heart disease with the most common ones being: patent ductus arteriosus, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, obstruction, cyanotic defects, septal defects, and Ebsteins anomaly.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus refers to a condition where a false route of blood flow occurs in the foetal form allowing blood to bypass the lungs. If this channel does not close on its own, blood that should be sent around the body via the aorta is channelled back to the lungs instead and results in the child becoming easily short of breath, developing frequent chest infections, tiring easily and having a slow growth rate. It is seen more often in premature babies rather than full term, and a very narrow channel may go undetected for some time as symptoms may not occur.

Hypo plastic left heart syndrome is a potentially fatal defect of the heart occurring when the left side of the heart, including the aorta, is not developed properly. Seemingly normal to begin, the affected baby will show signs of breathing difficulty and discoloration within a few days. It must be treated as soon as it is diagnosed in order for the child to survive.

To suffer from an obstruction, is when any of the major veins, arteries or valves to, from and within the heart become blocked or narrowed in some way; this is called stenosis. Some children may display no symptoms but others may suffer from dizziness, lack of oxygen and breathlessness, depending on how bad the stenosis is. Treatment is determined on the severity and can range from simple medications to very serious operations such as transplant, widening of the blood vessel or valve replacement.

The term ‘cyanotic defects’ is an umbrella description given when there are problems with the circulation of blood within the heart and oxygen rich blood mixes with venous (deoxygenated) blood resulting in an inadequate circulation of oxygenated blood around the body. There are numerous types and causes of cyanotic defects though some may arise with no known or obvious cause.

The wall between the two upper chambers of the heart, the atria, and the two lower chambers, the ventricles, is called the septum. It this wall is damaged in some way, the person is said to suffer from a septal defect. This form of CHD is usually a hole in the septum, leading to inadequate blood flow around the body as the blood collects in the heart, frequently leading to an enlargement of the organ.

Ebsteins anomaly is diagnosed when there is a defect of the tricuspid valve, which separates the right atrium and right ventricle allowing blood to flow back into the atrium instead of flowing out of the ventricle. It can present with no symptoms and not cause any major problems, or may require surgery to amend the defect depending on the severity of any presenting symptoms.
Causes of CHD

For many people, the cause of a structural defect may remain unknown, but for others, the causes may be due to a genetic factor that predisposes future generations to developing a hereditary condition. It is possible that the lifestyle choices of the parents of the affected person have influenced developmental abnormalities, along with the presence of either bacterial or viral infections present during pregnancy. Some existing medical conditions in the mother, such as liver disorders or diabetes can also contribute to the development of CHD .
Treating CHD

Treatment options surrounding congenital heart disease are very widely variable and can range from no immediate interventions to the use of medications, surgery or both. Surgery may be relatively minor with few risks, or can include major transplant surgery.
Congenital heart disease can refer to problems with the heart itself, the surrounding tissues or the blood vessels flowing in and out of the organ. These problems are often diagnosed at birth as they have occurred whilst the foetus developed in the womb.
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