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Heart failure

What is Heart failure?

Heart failure describes the condition in which the heart is unable to pump an adequate supply of blood to the body’s tissues. The organs and muscles are therefore deprived from oxygen and nutrients, and, as a result, do not function properly. Heart failure leads to oedema, which refers to the build-up of fluids in the tissues.

Heart failure is a chronic condition with serious consequences. It can affect your general well-being including your mental and physical state, and its prevalence increases with age. There is no cure for heart failure, but a combination of lifestyle changes, medications and sometimes surgery can help in the management and the treatment of this condition.

Causes

There are numerous causes that lead to heart failure and the most common risk factors are:

  • Cardiomyopathy – A disease of the heart muscle that causes the muscle to weaken. Coronary heart disease and other heart diseases can lead to cardiomyopathy.
  • Coronary heart disease– One of the most common causes of heart failure as it restricts the ability of the heart to pump blood adequately. It refers to the hardening of the arteries supplying blood to the heart due to the build-up of fatty deposits in the walls of the arteries.
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol and drug abuse
  • High blood pressure – The heart has to work harder to supply blood to the body. If the heart is unable to keep up with the pressure, heart failure can develop.
  • Others – Defects of the heart valves, and congenital heart disease (heart defects present at birth)

Symptoms

If you are suffering from heart failure, you may experience the following:

  • Shortness of breath resulting from fluid build-up in the lungs
  • Swollen feet, ankles and legs resulting from fluid build-up in the veins and body tissues
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Fainting and dizziness due to inadequate blood and oxygen supply to organs and muscles
  • Fatigue due to inadequate blood and oxygen supply to organs and muscles
  • Sudden death

Treatment

Your doctor may recommend a combination of lifestyle changes, medication, and sometimes surgery to treat heart failure.

  • Lifestyle changes include:
    • Limit salt intake to help reduce swelling
    • Maintain a healthy diet
    • Quit smoking
    • Reduce or eliminate consumption of alcohol
    • Regular exercise (your doctor can recommend a specific exercise programme)
  • Medication:
    • To help eliminate excess fluid in the tissues
    • To help stimulate the heart’s pump action
    • To lower blood pressure
    • To correct arrhythmia
  • Surgery may be recommended by your doctor to correct heart abnormalities that cause heart failure. In cases of end-stage heart failure, your doctor might consider:
    • Ventricular Assist Device (VAD)– A mechanical heart device that helps the heart to pump oxygen-rich blood into the body. This device is placed into the patient’s chest but does not replace the heart.
    • Mechanical heart device or total artificial heart – This is a man-made pump that takes over the pumping action of the heart
    • Heart Transplantation

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