Heart Failure

Heart Failure

Listen as Dr. Erika Feller discusses heart failure and ventricular assist devices.

What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is the condition resulting from the heart's inability to pump an adequate amount of blood through the body. Heart failure may be sudden, but may also develop slowly and gradually over many years. But in either case, the condition cases the heart to lose its ability to work and pump blood efficiently.

The result is that the body doesn't get as much oxygen and nutrients as it needs, leading to problems like fatigue, loss of appetite, and kidney failure. Blood backs up behind the heart, leading to increased pressure or fluid in the lungs. This causes shortness of breath. The body also often holds on to fluid. Heart failure is usually a chronic, long-term condition that is managed with medications and lifestyle changes.

Types of Heart Failure

The two main categories of heart failure are systolic heart failure and diastolic heart failure.

Systolic heart failure is when heart failure is caused by the heart not contracting well. The heart can't pump with enough force to push enough blood into the circulation. As a result, blood coming into the heart from the lungs can back up, causing fluid to leak into the lungs.

This is the most common type of heart failure, and the one doctors can treat and understand the best.

Diastolic heart failure is a different disease -- it's the heart not relaxing well. Very often, it's associated with high blood pressure and a thick heart. This form may lead to fluid accumulation, especially in the feet, ankles, and legs. Some patients may have lung congestion. Although doctors can treat blood pressure and fluid volume, there are not as many treatment options for this type of heart failure.

Signs & Symptoms

Many symptoms of heart failure result from the congestion that develops as fluid backs up into the lungs and leaks into the tissues. Other symptoms result from inadequate delivery of oxygen-rich blood to the body's tissues. Since heart failure can progress rapidly, it is essential to consult a physician immediately if any of the following symptoms are detected.

  • Weight loss
  • Swelling of feet and ankles
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Pronounced neck veins
  • Loss of appetite, indigestion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath, especially with activity
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Shortness of breath which occurs after lying down for a while
  • Fatigue, weakness, faintness
  • Sensation of feeling the heart beat (palpitations)
  • Pulse may feel irregular or rapid
  • Decreased alertness or concentration
  • Cough
  • Decreased urine production
  • Need to urinate at night

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This page was last updated: September 15, 2014

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