Although heart failure sounds like it could be another name for cardiac arrest, where the heart suddenly stops beating, heart failure is not cardiac arrest.
You might confuse heart failure with a heart attack, where the heart doesn’t get enough blood flow due to a blockage in the blood vessels. Even so, heart failure is not the same as a heart attack.
Heart failure occurs when your heart isn’t pumping as effectively as your body requires. According to the National Institutes of Health, “The term ‘heart failure’ doesn't mean that your heart has stopped or is about to stop working. However, heart failure is a serious condition that requires medical care.”
About 5.7 million people in the United States have heart failure. By 2030, an estimated 8 million people will live with heart failure. People age 65 and older are more likely to experience heart failure.
How the Heart Fails
Heart failure is a condition that usually develops over time. The heart weakens and cannot supply the body with the blood and oxygen it needs. Since the heart doesn’t pump as effectively as it should, it can lead to fatigue and shortness of breath.
Heart failure can involve the left or right sides of the heart or both. It usually affects the left side first.
Left-sided heart failure occurs when the heart isn’t able to pump enough oxygenated blood through the body. There are two types of left-sided heart failure:
- Systolic failure – The left ventricle of the heart cannot pump with enough force to circulate blood and oxygen throughout the body.
- Diastolic failure – The left ventricle is not able to relax because the muscle is stiff. As a result, the heart can’t fill up with sufficient blood to pump throughout the body.
Right-sided heart failure happens when the heart doesn’t pump enough blood to the lungs to replenish oxygen levels. Right-sided failure often develops as a result of left-sided heart failure.
Congestive heart failure is another term for heart failure that indicates there is fluid buildup in the abdomen, liver, legs, ankles, feet or another part of the body.
Causes of Heart Failure
Not surprisingly, some common causes of heart failure are diseases that damage the heart, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Other conditions that can lead to heart failure are congenital heart disease, heart attack, infections that weaken the heart muscle, leaky or damaged heart valves, or abnormal heart rhythms.
Heart failure is the most common reason for hospital stays among older adults. Mental confusion can be a symptom of heart failure, and cognitive impairment is present in nearly half of older adults hospitalized with heart failure. Cognitive limitations can impede the ability to follow care instructions in the home setting, and these deficiencies may lead to rehospitalization.
Treatment and Prevention
Heart failure is a progressive condition that has no cure. Treatments, including medication and heart-heathy lifestyle changes, can help people with heart failure continue to live active lives.
Some goals of treatment are to:
- Manage any underlying health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes
- Reduce fatigue, shortness of breath and other symptoms
- Maintain heart function
- Improve longevity and quality of life
If you or a loved one has concerns about heart failure, consult a physician regarding diagnosis and treatment. Be sure to take any medications as prescribed. Seek medical advice regarding the amount and type of recommended physical activity. Your actions can have a positive impact in managing heart failure.
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