Heart failure is a condition in which the heart is no longer able to pump out enough oxygen-rich blood (systolic heart failure) and the heart muscles are stiff and do not fill with blood easily (diastolic heart failure). As the heart’s pumping becomes less effective, blood may back up in other areas of the body including the liver, lungs, arms, legs and gastrointestinal tract. This is called congestive heart failure or CHF.
- Coronary artery disease - a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart – can weaken the heart muscle suddenly or over time.
- High blood pressure that is not well controlled can eventually leading to muscle weakening.
- Other heart problems including a heart attack, congenital heart disease, infection and arrhythmias.
- Other diseases including emphysema, severe anemia, overactive thyroid, sarcoidosis and excessive iron in the body.
Symptoms of heart failure often begin slowly. They include:
- Loss of appetite
- Need to urinate at night
- Weight gain
- Fatigue, weakness, faintness
- Fast or irregular pulse
- Heart palpitations
- Swollen ankles and feet
- Shortness of breath when you are active or after you lie down
- Waking up from sleep after a couple of hours due to shortness of breath
If you have CHF, your doctor will monitor you very closely. You’ll need to see him or her every three to six months. Testing will be done to monitor your heart function. He or she will prescribe medication to treat your CHF. It’s important to take them as prescribed. They will help your heart pump better, keep your blood from clotting and open up your blood vessels, among other affects.
It’s essential that you make lifestyle changes to manage your symptoms. Watch for changes in your heart rate, blood pressure, pulse and weight. Purchase a blood pressure cuff to use at home. Use a reliable scale to monitor your weight daily. A gain, even a small one, is a sign that your body is holding onto extra fluid and your heart failure is getting worse. Talk to your doctor about what you should do if that happens. Limit your salt intake, do not smoke, stay active, lower your cholesterol, get enough rest, stay active and lose weight if you are overweight. If you have trouble getting around, consider mobility equipment such as walkers, rollators and scooters. Call your physician if you develop an increased cough, weakness, sudden weight gain, swelling or other new symptoms.