Understanding Heart Failure

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Understanding Heart Failure

Heart failure means the heart hasAdvanced CardioRXlost some of its ability to pump blood and not, as is often assumed, that the heart has stopped beating. The two kinds of heart failure are "systolic heart failure" which refers to the heart muscle becoming weak and not being able to pump enough blood out with each beat and "diastolic heart failure," where the heart muscle has become stiff and has lost the ability to relax and fill completely with blood. Taking your medication, eating right, watching fluid intake, and exercising will help prevent heart failure from getting worse and can sometimes improve it.

The heart is a muscle with four chambers that pump blood. The "atria" are the upper two chambers, the "ventricles" the lower two. The heart is really two pumps that together move blood through the body. The right-sided pump fills with blood returning from the body and pumps it to the lungs to receive oxygen. The left side of the heart receives blood from the lungs and pumps it out to all parts of the body. The right-sided pump only has to pump blood to the lungs; it is a thinner muscle than the left-sided pump which is a strong, thick muscle.

If a person has heart failure, his heart may not pump enough blood to the lungs and other parts of the body during activity. The result is a shortage of oxygen and nutrients in the blood that make a person weak and tired. A backup of blood can be caused when the heart is not pumping well. Fluid leaks from the blood vessels into the tissues as a result of the backup. This is referred to as "congestion." Congestion may lead to difficulty breathing, swelling in the ankles and legs, or a loss of appetite. The causes of heart failure are varied. Common causes are blockages in the blood vessels, high blood pressure, disease of the heart valves, diabetes, infections of the heart muscle, cancer drugs, and genetic abnormalities that run in families. If no cause is known, it is referred to as "Idiopathic Cardiomyopathy." Symptoms of heart failure can be symptoms of other medical problems as well, i.e. weight gain of more than two pounds overnight or five pounds in a week, shortness of breath after simple activities, difficulty breathing while lying down, cough, weakness or fatigue, swelling in the ankles or legs, loss of appetite, belly pain and fullness.

Shortness of breath or feeling weak after activity is the first clues to heart failure. A doctor may use one of several tests to find the out the cause of your symptoms and decide on treatment. Possible tests include: an Electrocardiogram ("EKG" or "ECG") which records the electrical activity of your heart; an Echocardiogram ("Echo") which is an ultrasound of the heart; a Chest X-ray, an MRI, a Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test which is a kind of stress test; a MIBI Stress Test; a PET Scan, Blood Tests, and Heart Catheterization which include right heart catheterization or left heart catheterization.

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