Heart failure, or congestive heart failure, means that the heart is not pumping blood around the body as well as it used to because the heart has been weakened. It does not mean that the heart has stopped working but it needs support to work better. Heart failure cannot be cured but the symptoms can be controlled. We take a more detailed look at the heart conditions that can cause the heart to become weakened.
Heart failure can either be an ongoing condition or one that can start very suddenly. It is often the result of a number of problems that affect the heart at the same time. Heart failure can also occur if the heart muscles become stiff. A condition known as 'Stiff Heart Syndrome', or Isolated Cardiac Amyloidosis.
Conditions that can damage or weaken the heart
Coronary artery disease (CAD) and heart attackCAD is the most common form, where arteries that supply blood to the heart become clogged with fatty substance. A heart attack occurs if the fatty deposits in the arteries rupture, which causes a blood clot to form and block blood flow to an area of the heart muscle.
High blood pressure (hypertension)If blood pressure is high, the heart works harder to circulate blood throughout the body. The heart muscle may become either too stiff or too weak to pump blood.
CardiomyopathyDamage to the heart muscle, which can be caused by several diseases, infections, alcohol abuse and the toxic effect of drugs such as cocaine.
Faulty heart valvesThe heart can weaken over time from having to work harder to keep the blood flow as it should be due to a damaged valve. These can be fixed or replaced if found in time.
Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias)Conditions such as atrial fibrillation, which are irregular and an abnormally fast heart rate.
Congenital heart diseaseA range of birth defects that affects how the heart works.
Other diseasesDiseases such as diabetes, HIV, or a build-up of iron or protein may contribute to heart failure.
Symptoms of heart failure
- Shortness of breath (dyspnoea)
- Fatigue and weakness
- Swelling of the legs, ankles and feet
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Coughing or wheezing with white or pink phlegm
- Sudden weight gain from fluid retention
- Lack of appetite, feeling nauseous
- Chest pain if heart failure is caused by a heart attack
Treatment of heart failure
Heart failure needs lifelong management but the symptoms can improve and the heart can become stronger. It is usually treated with a combination of medications. In some cases, surgery is recommended to treat the underlying problem that led to the disease by a cardiologist.