Heart failure means a person’s heart is not pumping as well as it should. About five million Americans suffer from the condition in which blood moves through the heart and body at a slower rate, resulting in pressure building up in the heart.
Heart failure can occur as a result of many different conditions, including:
- Coronary artery disease
- A heart attack
- Cardiomyopathy (damage to the heart muscle)
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
- Heart valve disease
There are two types of heart failure: systolic and diastolic. “When a person has systolic heart failure, their heart is not pumping blood with enough force, meaning the body does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood,” says Rebecca L. Smith, MD, FACC, FASE, cardiologist at Saint Francis Medical Center. “With diastolic heart failure, the heart contracts normally, but the ventricle does not relax correctly. This reduces the amount of blood from the body that returns to the heart and increases blood pressure in the lungs.”
A person can live for many years with heart failure, managing it with medications and changes in lifestyle. In some cases, the right medication can reverse the problem, and the person can move forward with a perfectly healthy heart. The key is starting treatment early in the process.
“It can sometimes be difficult to determine when you are experiencing heart failure,” says Smith. “Symptoms can include shortness of breath, fatigue, rapid or irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure or bloating in the abdomen. However, you could have heart failure and experience few, if any, of these symptoms.”
In some cases, coronary bypass surgery, heart valve repair and replacement, or the insertion of a heart pump or pacemaker may be the right solution.
“Treatment depends on the cause of the heart failure,” says Smith. “If blocked arteries are contributing to the condition, coronary bypass surgery may help. If the problem is a faulty heart valve, your doctor may recommend a valve repair or replacement to eliminate backward blood flow. For the most advanced cases of heart failure, a heart transplant may be the best option.”