Information & Advice For Arrhythmia Patients
What is Heart Failure?
The heart’s role is to pump blood around the body, ensuring that oxygen, blood and nutrients get to all of the muscles and organs. Heart failure is a
condition in which your heart does not pump blood as efficiently around your body as it should, which makes it difficult for your body to get as much oxygen and blood as it needs. When the organs do not get enough oxygen to work effectively, this can then cause a number of symptoms, particularly after being active.
Although the term heart failure can sound scary, it does not mean that your heart is just going to stop working. Although heart failure is a serious medical condition, it only means that the heart is not working properly, and needs some support to help it work better.
Doctors often refer to two main types of heart failure. The two types are based on the ejection fraction, which is the proportion of blood pumped out of the main pumping chamber of the heart (the left ventricle) during a heart beat.
The most common type of heart failure is that with a low ejection fraction (less than 40%). Increasingly common is the other main type of heart failure, where the ejection fraction is still normal (between 50% and 75%). Your doctor will tell you what type of heart failure you have, and what the treatment options are.
Another classification of heart failure, is right heart failure and left heart failure. Right heart failure is when blood may back up on the right side of the heart causing swelling in the legs, abdomen and other organs. Left heart failure is when blood may back up from the left side of the heart to the lungs which causes congestion in the lungs and breathlessness.
One of the most common symptoms of heart failure is breathlessness, which worsens with physical activity or exercise. Congestion, or fluid, can build up on the lungs which can make it difficult to breathe. This can happen when you are exercising or have been active, or in more severe cases can also happen at rest. It can also happen at night when lying down and may affect sleep. This build-up of fluid can also cause swollen ankles, legs or abdomen, as the heart is not pumping effectively enough to remove this fluid. A persistent cough may also develop, due to the excess fluid sitting in the lungs.
Tiredness caused by the heart's reduced function is very common, as less oxygen and nutrients for energy are being delivered around the body. This in turn can make everyday activities more difficult and exhausting, particularly exercise.
Other symptoms can include palpitation, a rapid or irregular heartbeat, weakness, dizziness or fainting, rapid weight gain from fluid retention or decreased alertness.
There are lots of conditions that can cause or contribute towards heart failure by changing the structure or functioning of the heart. The main causes of heart failure are:
• High blood pressure
• Coronary heart disease,including previous heart attack
• Cardiomyopathy (which may be genetic and run in your family)
• Damage to the heart valves
• Various heart rhythm problems
• Congenital heart disease (heart disease you are born with)
• Myocarditis (infl ammation of the heart muscle, usually caused by a virus)
• Some drugs used in cancer treatment
• Excessive alcohol consumption
As such, there is not usually a ‘cure’ for heart failure. There are however many treatment options that control symptoms, ease discomfort, and allow people with heart failure to lead a happy and healthy life. Lifestyle changes, medications, medical devices and surgery, are different treatment options for people with heart failure. The options will be discussed with you, and will depend greatly on your symptoms, the severity of your condition and what is causing your heart failure.