The heart is mainly responsible for pumping blood through the body to ensure that the different organs function properly. Heart failure occurs when the heart is no longer able to adequately fulfill this role and meet the body's needs. This causes a decrease in blood flow to vital organs, such as the kidneys and lungs.
While heart failure can occur at any age if an individual has a heart defect, it's much more common in the elderly.
Heart failure develops gradually, and the earliest signs tend to be very subtle. The main symptoms are as follows:
- Shortness of breath
- Waking up out of breath in the middle of the night
- Intense fatigue and weakness
- Swelling around the legs, feet, or stomach
- More pronounced shortness of breath when lying down
- May be necessary to sleep on several pillows or even in a sitting position
Causes and triggers
The most common causes of heart failure are a myocardial infarction (heart attack) causing damage to a portion of the heart muscle and high blood pressure. Other conditions that can lead to heart failure include diabetes and drug or alcohol abuse.
An infection, excessive salt or fluid intake, anemia, and certain medications can all trigger or worsen heart failure symptoms.
Heart failure is a chronic disease that requires long-term treatment. This usually involves a combination of medications and lifestyle changes.
Heart failure medications are used to relieve symptoms, slow or reverse the progression of the disease, and prolong life expectancy. It's important to take your medication regularly. Don't stop taking it without first consulting a health care professional.
Below are some of the steps you can take to manage your heart failure:
- Decrease your sodium and fluid intake.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit your alcohol consumption.
- Avoid smoking.
- Exercise every day according to your fitness level.
- Weigh yourself every day to make sure you aren't retaining water.
When should I see a health care professional?
Consult a health care professional if you develop one or more of the following symptoms:
- Increased shortness of breath
- Sudden weight gain of 1 kg (2-3 lb.) in one day or 2 kg (5 lb.) in one week
- Increased swelling around the legs or feet
- New or worsened cough
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Go to the emergency room or call 911 if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Severe shortness of breath at rest or a feeling of suffocation
- Chest pain or discomfort that lasts more than 15 minutes and does not improve with rest
- Loss of consciousness or severe dizziness