Diseases & Conditions

Heart Failure

Heart failure affects nearly 5 million Americans, including approximately 550,000 newly diagnosed heart failure patients each year. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65.

Heart failure does not mean the heart has stopped working; rather, it means that the heart’s pumping power is weaker than normal. With heart failure, blood moves through the heart and body at a slower rate, and pressure in the heart increases. As a result, the heart cannot pump enough oxygen and nutrients to meet the body’s needs.

The chambers of the heart respond by stretching to hold more blood to pump through the body or by becoming more stiff and thickened. This helps to keep the blood moving for a short while, but in time, the heart muscle walls weaken and are unable to pump as strongly. As a result, the kidneys often respond by causing the body to retain water and sodium. If fluid builds up in the arms, legs, ankles, feet, lungs or other organs, the body becomes congested, a condition called congestive heart failure.

Heart failure is caused by many conditions that damage the heart muscle, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, cardiomyopathy and conditions that overwork the heart, such as valve disease, kidney disease and congenital heart defects.

Coronary Artery Disease:   CAD is a disease of the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart, causes decreased blood flow to the heart muscle. If the arteries become blocked or severely narrowed, the heart becomes starved for oxygen and nutrients.

Cardiomyopathy: Damage to the heart muscle from causes other than artery or blood flow problems, such as from infections or alcohol or drug abuse.

Conditions that overwork the heart. Conditions including high blood pressure (hypertension), valve disease, thyroid disease, kidney disease, diabetes or heart defects present at birth can all cause heart failure. In addition, heart failure can occur when several diseases or conditions are present at once.

Symptoms of heart failure can be mild to severe, be constant or come and go. They may include congested lungs, fluid and water retention, dizziness, fatigue and weakness, and rapid or irregular heartbeats.

If you have heart failure, you may have one, all or none of these symptoms. In addition, your symptoms may not be related to how weak your heart is; you may have many symptoms but your heart function may be only mildly weakened. Or you may have a more severely damaged heart but have no symptoms.