Heart failure

What is heart failure?

In simple terms, heart failure (HF) is inability of heart’s normal function of pumping blood in sufficient quantities to meet the needs of the body. It is different from heart attack and cardiac arrest. When the heart fails to pump out blood adequately, different organs of the body suffer from lack of adequate oxygenated blood. It affects the functions of all organs, which slow down their proper function. Moreover damming of blood in the vessels returning blood to the heart cause excess fluid to collect in the body. Legs and face become gradually swollen. Collection of fluid in the lungs makes breathing more and more difficult. As HF progresses, effort intolerance increases. In advanced stages, no activity is possible without breathlessness.

What are the important symptoms of heart failure?

As discussed, breathlessness and swelling of feet are important symptoms of HF. Extreme fatigue is seen in advanced cases. Urine output decreases when heart failure affects the function of kidneys. Sudden HF is associated with marked breathlessness and spitting out blood stained frothy sputum (pulmonary edema). Higher mental functions are affected in severe HF. Appetite is reduced when the stomach wall becomes water logged and may cause vomiting. Abdomen may get distended with fluid collection in advanced HF.

What causes heart failure?

Most of the heart diseases can cause HF in later stages. Common causes would be high blood pressure, diseases of the blood vessels of the heart, diseases of the heart valves and diseases affecting the heart muscles. Toxins like alcohol in large amounts can also cause HF. Certain parasitic diseases cause heart failure in some regions. Severe anemia leads to reduced function of the heart and heart failure. Some hormone diseases like increased function of the thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism), if severe, can lead to HF. Infections of the heart, though rare, if severe, can end up with heart failure.