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Heart Failure: Symptoms, Risk Factors, and How to Beat It

Submitted by on June 12, 2017 – 4:22 PM

HN_BB_CHF_BB7_Surgery_697-img_1280x720Heart failure is growing public health issue due to its substantial contribution to morbidity and mortality and its current status as the leading cause of hospitalization (Del Gobbo et al, 2015). According to the American Heart Association, heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood to meet body’s needs for nutrients and oxygen. Initially, the heart tries to compensate by stretching and enlargement of the heart muscle so that it may contract more strongly to overcome the oxygen demands of our tissues. However, when the heart muscle enlarges, more fluid is retained in the body, the lungs become congested with fluid, and the heart starts to beat irregularly.


On the other hand, our body tries to compensate by constricting blood vessels to maintain the blood pressure and make up for the heart’s loss of power. The body diverts blood from least important tissues to vital organs such as the kidneys, heart and brain. These are temporary measures taken by our body to compensate for the loss, but it cannot solve the root problem. Heart failure continues and worsens until these substitutes no longer work. By the time no coordination remains between the heart and body, the person starts to experience shortness of breath and fatigue (, 2017).


Causes and risks factors of heart failure: Anyone may develop heart failure but it becomes more common with increasing age. People diagnosed with heart failure are likely to have had other heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and a past history of heart attacks. According to a previous research study (Dodani et al, 2004), prevalence of hypertension in the urban population of Karachi, Pakistan is 38.5%, while the prevalence of high cholesterol and diabetes is 10.7% and 11.9%. 52.2% of the sample were obese and 64.8% people never exercised.


Other risk factors for heart failure include:


1) Coronary artery disease: when fats and cholesterol deposit in the arteries supplying the heart, less blood reaches the heart muscle. This build-up in the arteries is called atherosclerosis. This results in chest pain and, if artery is completely blocked, a heart attack.


2) High blood pressure: high blood pressure doubles the risk of developing heart failure. When pressure in the vessels is too high, the heart has to contract more strongly which results in enlargement and consequent weakening of heart chambers.


3) Past history of a heart attack: a heart attack occurs when the coronary arteries are obstructed completely, resulting in loss of oxygen and blood supply to the heart muscle. This loss damages heart muscle tissue and part of it essentially dies. The damaged heart tissues cannot contract, which weakens the ability of the heart to contract overall.


4) Diseases of the heart muscle: these diseases include cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or inflammation (myocarditis). Damage to the heart muscle may be caused by drugs, alcohol use, viral infections, or may be due to unknown causes which increase risk of heart failure.


5) Severe lung disease: when the lungs fail to function properly, the heart has to work forcefully to supply available oxygen to the rest of the body.
Other causes also include diabetes, sleep apnea, severe anemia, hyperthyroidism and arrhythmias.


Warning signs and symptoms: Some of the most common signs and symptoms of heart failure are listed below. If any one of us experiences any of the following symptoms, even if we are not diagnosed with heart failure, we should seek medical help before it becomes fatal.


1) Shortness of breath: a person may experience shortness of breath (dyspnea), most commonly during activity and sometimes at rest or during sleep (which may suddenly wake you up). The person may also complain of waking up tired and restless.


2) Persistent coughing: due to fluid build-up in the lungs, the person may complain of persistent productive cough.


3) Edema: swelling of the feet, ankles, and abdomen occurs and the person may complain of sudden weight gain


4) Tiredness and fatigue: as the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the oxygen demands of body tissues, this precipitates a feeling of tiredness while performing daily living activities.


Other signs and symptoms include loss of appetite, confusion and impaired thinking, and increased heart rate.


Lifestyle modifications for heart failure: Chronic heart failure is a long-term chronic condition which leads to poor quality of life. We can make many changes to manage heart failure and help ourselves by alleviating symptoms, slowing disease progression and improving everyday life. In fact, people with mild to moderate heart failure often can lead nearly normal lives as a result. There are many self-management options available to help patients live as comfortably as possible:


1) Smoking cessation: nicotine from tobacco smoke temporarily increases heart rate and blood pressure. Smoking leads to clumping or stickiness in the blood vessels of the heart. People who quit smoking are more likely to have their heart failure symptoms improve.


2) Weight management: sudden weight gain or weight loss may be a consequence of heart failure. Monitor your weight daily and contact your healthcare provider if you gain more than five pounds a week. Maintain a moderate weight to stay healthy.


3) ‘Heart-healthy’ diet: take a diet beneficial to the heart to limit further progression of the disease.


4) Be physically active: make regular exercise a part of your lifestyle.


5) Managing stress: keep yourself mentally healthy and limit stress-promoting activities.


6) Monitor blood pressure: monitor your blood pressure daily and maintain a blood pressure chart.


Moreover; resting adequately, limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, and tracking daily fluid intake are some of the measures we can take to improve our quality of life and to limit heart failure symptoms as much as possible.


References: “Heart Failure”. N.p., 2017. Web. 2 Apr. 2017.


Del Gobbo, Liana C. et al. “Contribution Of Major Lifestyle Risk Factors For Incident Heart Failure In Older Adults”. JACC: Heart Failure 3.7 (2015): 520-528. Web.


Harris, Jonathan, and Paula Mayo. “Heart Failure Self-Management With The House Of Care Model”. British Journal of Cardiac Nursing 12.2 (2017): 70-75. Web. 1 Apr. 2017.


Dodani, S. et al. “Prevalence And Awareness Of Risk Factors And Behaviours Of Coronary Heart Disease In An Urban Population Of Karachi, The Largest City Of Pakistan: A Community Survey”. Journal of Public Health 26.3 (2004): 245-249. Web.



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