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Knowing Heart Failure And Its Symptoms

The pumping action of heart is to ensure delivery of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the body’s cells so that it can function normally. When the heart fails, it cannot pump as well as it should be, and cells in the body cannot get sufficient blood. Fatigue, dyspnea (shortness of breath), and coughing may occur in some people, and this can make the everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs or carrying groceries very difficult.

Older folks are more likely to get heart failure, but it can happen to anyone. Most people who develop heart failure have or had prior heart condition. The most common conditions that can lead to heart failure are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and previous heart attack.

When heart failure occurs, the heart will first try to keep up with its workload by enlarging the heart, developing more mass and pumping faster. The heart stretches to contract more strongly and keep up with the demand to pump more blood. Over time, the heart is enlarged. The increase in muscle mass can then occur because the contracting cells of the heart get bigger. This lets the heart pump more strongly, at least initially. The heart will pump faster to increase the heart's output, too.

Meanwhile, the body will compensate in other ways. The blood vessels narrow to keep blood pressure up so as to make up for the heart's loss of power, and the body diverts blood away from less important tissues and organs (like the kidneys), the heart and brain. These temporary measures mask the problem of heart failure without solving it. Heart failure continues and worsens until these substitute processes no longer work. Once the heart and body cannot keep up, the person who has heart failure will start experience fatigue, breathing problems or other symptoms that usually require a visit to the doctor.

It is, therefore, important to know and pay close attention to what kinds of symptoms expected. Most symptoms caused by heart failure can be divided into 3 general categories: symptoms due to lung congestion, symptoms due to reduced cardiac pumping, and symptoms due to heart arrhythmias.

Lung congestion commonly occurs in heart failure. Heart failure often leads to an accumulation of fluid within the body and elevated pressure within the heart, causing some of that extra fluid to accumulate in the lungs. Patients can experience dyspnea either with exertion or while lying flat. Dyspnea sometimes occur suddenly in the middle of the night, forcing one to wake up gasping for air and needing to sit up. Recently, dyspnea while bending over has also been identified as a symptom of heart failure. The accumulation of body fluid often leads to edema (swelling in the legs).

Symptoms caused by poor cardiac pumping (also referred to as decreased cardiac output) occur only relatively late in the course of heart failure, when the heart muscle has become extremely weak. The most prominent symptoms caused by this reduced pumping capability are extreme fatigue and muscle wasting (muscle atrophy). But poor blood flow can also reduce the function of internal organs like the brain, liver, kidneys and intestines, leading to other symptoms like lethargy, extreme edema, abdominal distention and numerous gastrointestinal symptoms.

Being common in people with heart failure, atrial fibrillation can produce palpitations (a feeling that the heart is beating rapidly or irregularly), weakness or dyspnea. It also tends to produce blood clots in the left atrium that can break free and travel to the brain, causing a stroke. These clots can as well damage other organs in the body. Sudden death due to ventricular fibrillation is common in patients with heart failure.

Heart failure is a serious condition, which can involve the heart's left side, right side or both sides, though it usually affects the left side first, and usually there is no cure. Many people with heart failure, however, can still to lead a full, enjoyable life when the condition is managed with heart failure medications and healthy lifestyle changes.




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