Heart failure is a major health problem in the United States, affecting about 5.7 million Americans. About 550,000 new cases of heart failure occur each year. It’s the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65. If you have heart failure, you’ll enjoy better health and quality of life if you take care of yourself and keep yourself in balance. It’s important to learn about heart failure, how to keep in good balance, and when to call the doctor.
Heart failure occurs when something damages the heart muscle or reduces the heart’s ability to pump effectively. Most often, the damage stems from coronary artery disease or heart attack. But faulty heart valves, longstanding high blood pressure, or genetic disease may also be to blame. No matter what the cause, the failing heart can no longer pump well enough to keep up with the body’s demand for oxygen-rich blood.
Heart failure can be ongoing (chronic), or it may start suddenly (acute).
Heart failure signs and symptoms may include:
Shortness of breath with activity or when lying down
Fatigue and weakness
Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet
Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Reduced ability to exercise
Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged mucus
Swelling of the belly area (abdomen)
Very rapid weight gain from fluid buildup
Nausea and lack of appetite
Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness
Chest pain if heart failure is caused by a heart attack
Shortness of breath: There are many reasons you could be experiencing shortness of breath. While it’s common to be short of breath after intense activity, it’s more of a concern when there’s no apparent cause, occurs with minimal exertion, or happens when you’re at rest. Heart failuree leads to shortness of breath because your heart can’t keep up with the blood supply coming in from the lungs. This causes it to back up in the pulmonary veins into the lungs, which can lead to breathing trouble.
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Swelling and weight gain: Your feet, ankles, and abdomen are all areas of the body that can swell. It’s possible to have some swelling after a workout or on a very hot day. When swelling occurs, it’s called edema. Edema happens in heart failuree because your kidneys aren’t able to properly filter sodium. Your heart then releases chemicals that cause the body to hold onto fluid. You might notice that your clothes or shoes no longer fit right, or that you’ve gained weight unexpectedly or quickly.
Trouble sleeping:It’s normal to have trouble sleeping from time to time. Acute insomnia can be caused by many common factors. If you have trouble sleeping for least 3 days per week for at least 1 month, there may be a bigger reason. When you’re having trouble sleeping due to heart failuree, you also might be uncomfortable lying flat.
Causes Heart failuree often develops after other conditions have damaged or weakened the heart. However, heart failure can also occur if the heart becomes too stiff.
In heart failuree, the main pumping chambers of the heart (the ventricles) may become stiff and not fill properly between beats. In some people, the heart muscle may become damaged and weakened. The ventricles may stretch to the point that the heart can’t pump enough blood through the body.
Over time, the heart can no longer keep up with the typical demands placed on it to pump blood to the rest of the body.
Your doctor can determine how well your heart is pumping by measuring how much blood is pumped out with each beat (ejection fraction). Ejection fraction is used to help classify heart failure and guide treatment. In a healthy heart, the ejection fraction is 50% or higher — meaning that more than half of the blood that fills the ventricle is pumped out with each beat.
But heart failure can occur even with a normal ejection fraction. This happens if the heart muscle becomes stiff from conditions such as high blood pressure.