Heart failure is a problem of supply and demand. If you have heart failure, your heart hasn’t stopped, but it can’t supply enough blood to meet the body’s demand for oxygen and nutrients. That’s because the heart isn’t taking in sufficient amounts of blood to meet its needs or pumping well enough to send an adequate amount of blood to the rest of the body, or both. Heart failure can occur on the right or left side of the organ, but it often affects both sides of the heart.
Heart failure may cause a variety of symptoms that make it difficult to go about your daily routine or enjoy favorite pastimes. No cure exists, so the goal of treatment is to minimize symptoms, boost quality of life and avoid hospitalization.
At St. Louis Cardiovascular, experienced cardiologists and technology are available to diagnose and manage chronic heart failure.
Causes of Heart Failure
Natural loss of some heart function with age may contribute to heart failure, but the main factor in the disease’s development is long-term strain on the muscle from a chronic medical condition or previous cardiac event, such as:
- a congenital heart defect
- arrhythmia, especially atrial fibrillation
- coronary artery disease
- heart attack
- high blood pressure
- inflammation of the heart muscle
- lung disease
- sleep apnea
- valve disease
Over time, one or more of those conditions can weaken the heart and lead to heart failure.
Risk Factors for Heart Failure
You can prevent or manage many of the medical conditions that make developing heart failure more likely, but other risk factors are beyond your control, including aging and ethnicity.
You have a higher risk for heart failure if you’re age 65 or older, African American or have a family history of the disease. You are also more likely to develop heart failure if you’ve received certain forms of chemotherapy for cancer, which can harm the heart.
Symptoms of Heart Failure
Reduced blood flow causes fluid to accumulate throughout the body. That can cause you to have trouble catching your breath during everyday activities, such as climbing stairs, and you may notice swelling in your feet, ankles and legs. Other symptoms include:
- abnormal heartbeat
- coughing, especially at night and when lying down
- weight gain
Heart failure is progressive, so symptoms will likely worsen over time without treatment.
Heart Failure Diagnosis
Your cardiology team at St. Louis Cardiovascular will use information from a variety of sources to diagnose heart failure.
They will ask about your personal and family health history, with special focus on any cardiac-related conditions linked to heart failure. They will perform a physical exam to check for signs of heart failure, such as an irregular heartbeat and swelling in the feet, legs and other parts of the body.
Blood and imaging tests can help your cardiologist build a more complete picture of the state of your heart. Sometimes, a blood test is ordered to check the level of B-type natriuretic peptide hormone — if it’s elevated, that can be a clue that heart failure is present — as well as tests to check kidney and thyroid function. Your cardiologist may also want to check your heart’s electrical activity with an electrocardiogram or obtain images of the heart with an echocardiogram.
Treatment for Heart Failure
Heart failure treatment varies from person to person depending on the severity of the disease and the conditions that contributed to it, among other factors. For many people, a key part of treatment is controlling underlying chronic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
As part of an overall treatment strategy, your cardiologist may recommend that you:
- adopt changes to your daily habits to benefit your heart, including quitting smoking, reducing salt in your diet and getting active
- attend cardiac rehabilitation to boost your cardiac fitness and learn about healthy lifestyle changes
- take medications to alleviate symptoms of heart failure, such as fluid buildup, and control blood pressure
If you have an arrhythmia, you may be a candidate for an implantable device to correct a dangerous rhythm or help the heart pump more efficiently. For advanced heart failure, a mechanical heart pump may be needed to help the heart function, or a heart transplant may be appropriate.