Understanding Heart Failure
What is heart failure?
Heart failure is the inability of the heart to supply oxygenated blood to the body tissues, which in turn causes poor circulation in those tissues. Some symptoms are: a reduced exercise capacity, shortness of breath, and in severe cases a buildup of fluid in the extremities and in the lungs that can make breathing difficult even at rest.
Heart failure can be caused by either a weakened heart muscle and failure of the heart muscle to pump enough blood through the body (this is called systolic dysfunction), or a problem with the filling of the chambers of the heart leading to very high pressures, stiff heart muscle and backing up of the blood into the lungs (diastolic dysfunction). The most common factors that contribute to heart failure are longstanding coronary artery disease and heart attack, followed by high blood pressure and diabetes. In some people, heart failure can be caused by excessive alcohol intake, infections or inherited conditions of the heart muscle.
What are the treatments for heart failure?
Treatment is extensive but it is part of the routine care we provide at Zambito Heart Center. This consists of a variety of medications, especially beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers, aldosterone blockers and sometimes nitrates and medications that relax the arteries of the body. There are also indirect medical treatments which include: cholesterol-lowering therapies and blood thinners to prevent clots in the heart. Procedures that open up the blood circulation of the heart such as angioplasty and bypass can help improve heart performance, as well. Finally, cardiovascular exercise is also a part of the improvement of heart failure patients, by strengthening the rest of the muscles of the body which puts less stress on the heart during activity.
In addition to medications, there are a variety of devices that are implanted into the heart that improve survival such as:
defibrillators – which prevent death from the heart rhythm suddenly stopping
resychronization pacemakers – which allow the two sides of the heart to beat in a more efficient fashion and improve blood flow
In even more severe cases, there exist implantable heart pumps that are usually inserted when the doctor feels the patient may soon need a heart transplant.
Living with heart failure is not only possible, it is a primary goal at our center. Integrating device, surgical, and medical therapy with exercise and diet allows more and more patients to live longer and have better-quality lives after their diagnosis of heart failure.