Article By: British Heart Foundation - READ ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Heart failure means your heart isn't pumping blood around your body as well as it should. It doesn’t mean your heart has stopped working, however you may need support to help it work better. Our medical experts answer your 5 top questions.
1. What are the symptoms of heart failure?
The main symptoms of heart failure are:
Shortness of breath when you’re active or resting, because you’re not getting enough oxygen.
Swollen feet, ankles, stomach and around the lower back area, caused by fluid build up.
Feeling unusually tired or weak because there’s not enough blood and oxygen getting to your muscles.
You should see your GP immediately if you begin to experience any of these symptoms.
2. What causes heart failure?
There are lots of reasons why you may have heart failure. It can be sudden or it can happen slowly over months or years.
The most common causes of heart failure are:
a heart attack – which can cause long-term damage to your heart, affecting how well the heart can pump.
high blood pressure - putting strain on the heart, which over time can lead to heart failure.
cardiomyopathy - a disease of the heart muscle. There are different types which can either be inherited or caused by other things, such as viral infections or pregnancy.
Heart failure can also be caused by:
heart valve disease
abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
congenital heart conditions – heart problems that you’re born with
endocarditis – a viral infection affecting the heart muscle
some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy
excessive alcohol consumption
anaemia – a lack of oxygen carrying haemoglobin or red blood cells in your blood
thyroid gland disease.
Other causes of heart failure
Pulmonary hypertension and heart failure
Heart failure can be caused by pulmonary hypertension (raised blood pressure in the blood vessels that supply your lungs). This condition can damage the right side of your heart, leading to heart failure. In some cases, the pulmonary hypertension itself is caused by an existing heart condition.
Amyloidosis happens when abnormal proteins, called amyloid, build up in organs (such as your heart, kidneys and liver) and tissues. This affects how your organs work. If amyloidosis affects the heart it's called cardiac amyloidosis – or ‘stiff heart syndrome’ – and can lead to heart failure.
3. How is heart failure diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about your medical history, symptoms and examine you. You may then be sent for tests such as:
an electrocardiogram (ECG)
breathing tests – to see if a lung problem is causing your breathlessness
a chest x-ray – to check if there's fluid in your lungs or if a lung condition is causing the symptoms.
Your doctor may talk about the ‘ejection fraction’ of your heart. This refers to the amount of blood that is squeezed out of your left ventricle every time your heart beats. It’s usually measured as a percentage – over 50% is considered normal. Your ejection fraction is measured from an echocardiogram.
Some people with heart failure can have a normal ejection fraction, so ejection fraction is used alongside other tests to diagnose heart failure.
4. What are the treatments for heart failure?
There isn't a cure for heart failure but the treatments available can control symptoms leading many people to live full and active lives. Your doctor will usually tell you what stage of heart failure you're in. This is graded in class from 1 to 4. 1 is the less severe and 4 is the most. Knowing this will help your doctors choose the best treatment for your condition.
Treatments for heart failure can include:
medication - to improve your symptoms and reduce fluid build up
a pacemaker or ICD - to help your heart pump blood around your body
coronary bypass surgery - if you have blocked arteries.
5. Can I improve my heart failure naturally?
If your doctor prescribes you medication it’s important to take it. But making changes to your lifestyle is also going to have a big impact on improving your health.
Changes may include:
weighing yourself regularly – sudden weight gain may mean too much fluid is building up in your body
watching the amount of fluid you have each day
controlling your blood pressure
limiting how much alcohol you drink
keeping active – this can help improve your energy, stamina and fitness
keeping to a healthy weight, which will help to prevent your heart from working too hard.
Diet changes are also essential when managing your weight and keeping your heart healthy.
You could feel healthier by eating:
one or two portions of fruit or veg with every meal
sunflower oil, olive oil, nuts and avocados instead of saturated fat options like crisps and butter
one or two portions of beans or pulses everyday with a meal
your protein in the form of fish, eggs and lean meats
less salt and sugar.