Heart disease is more than a serious health issue; it is the number one cause of death in both women and men. What’s more, it is no longer limited to elderly people. It has been seen that heart disease is now the biggest threat to adults as well. And guess what? Heart failure has become a huge threat.
The heart can be visualised as two coupled pumps that serially pump your blood through the body. If enough blood is not pumped by the heart, your body doesn’t receive enough blood too, causing fatigue and low blood pressure. This is what we call “forward failure”.
People often mistake heart failure with a heart attack. Both are forms of heart disease, but they differ in various ways.
“Heart failure is different from a heart attack. Heart attack is a condition, when there is a blockage of flow of blood supply to the heart muscles, leading to its damage, whereas heart failure is when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to fulfill the demands for the body,” says Dr. Prakas Chandra Mandal, consultant interventional cardiologist at Apollo Multispeciality Hospital, Kolkata.
Heart failure is a chronic condition that gradually gets worse. Moreover, a heart attack can lead to heart failure by weakening the heart’s pumping ability. Sometimes, heart failure comes on suddenly after a heart attack, with severe symptoms at first; this is called acute heart failure. But medications can help a person live longer and better, even with it.
Dr Dilip Kumar, consultant interventional cardiologist and electrophysiologist at Medica Super specialty Hospital, Kolkata reveals certain signs and symptoms that one should never ignore, especially if they already have a type of heart disease.
“Shortness of breath is one of the most common symptoms of heart failure. Breathing problems occur due to the fluid that backs up in the lungs and surrounds the tissues, causing breathlessness and asthma-like wheezing or dry cough. Patients with heart failure may also experience a feeling of suffocation at advanced stages,” says Dr Kumar.
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Because blood flow to the kidneys is restricted, the kidneys produce hormones that lead to salt and water retention. Dr Kumar explains, “When too little blood reaches the body’s tissues, it retains fluid and begins to swell. Patients may start observing swelling in their feet, then their ankles and legs, and finally in the abdomen. Due to this, they might also gain weight even if they’re eating less.”
Those who have heart failure are more likely to feel tired and fatigued. “As the pumping function reduces, oxygen supply to the muscles also decreases causing fatigue. The more a person exerts, the greater the fatigue. As an individual’s heart works overtime, it can cause tiredness, shortness of breath and a feeling of being simply worn out. Such are the signs of fatigue, one of the most familiar symptoms of congestive heart failure.” Additionally, the lack of blood flow also reduces the efficiency of waste products removal.
Apart from these symptoms, patients also show symptoms like heart palpitation, problems concentrating, dizziness, fainting spells and difficulty in sleeping.
It is recommended that people must watch out for these symptoms at an early stage and at the same time, consult a doctor for right medications and therapies. Ignoring these symptoms can have fatal consequences in the future, says Dr Kumar.
Early diagnosis is critical for the treatment of heart failure,as it can become fatal if it reaches an advanced stage. There are various ways in which heart failure can be diagnosed, says Dr Chandra.
To diagnose heart failure, the doctor will first ask about the patients’ medical history and symptoms, then conduct a physical examination by checking for heart enlargement, irregular heart sounds, abnormal sounds in lungs, swelling of the liver, water retention etc. He might then ask the patient to conduct tests like blood tests, chest X-Rays, electrocardiography (ECG), echocardiogram, cardiac catheterization, electrophysiology (EP) study to confirm if the patient has suffered from heart failure, adds Dr Chandra.
Dr Chandra says, heart failure cannot be cured completely, but there are several treatment options that allow a patient to live a normal life, reduce symptoms and prevent the disease from progressing. The different categories of heart failure therapy include lifestyle changes, medications, implantable devices, and surgeries.
But remember that the right treatment or therapy for heart failure can vary from one patient to the other. Therefore, it is advised to consult a doctor about the best treatment option for you.