As a patient, hearing the diagnosis of heart failure can be scary and confusing. Like a lot of medical terms, the words don’t always mean what you think, and a search on the internet only adds to the uncertainty.
Today, we will explain some heart failure basics to help separate facts from fiction.
What Is Heart Failure?
First, heart failure doesn’t mean your heart is about to stop or that a heart attack is imminent. “Heart failure” is a term doctors use to describe a condition which is characterized by shortness of breath with effort, at rest or when lying down, as well as sodium and water retention by the body because the heart muscle fails to pump properly.
In more severe cases, the amount of blood the heart pumps every minute is much reduced. This can result in weakness, fatigue and poor organ function. In patients with heart failure, the squeezing and relaxation of the muscle is impaired due to direct damage to the heart from some underlying disease process.
Heart muscle damage can occur from:
- High blood pressure
- Blockages in the heart arteries supplying nutrients
- Damage to heart valves
- Conditions that directly affect how the heart muscle fibers are formed and contract
Heart Failure Is Treatable
Secondly, heart failure is not a death sentence. The diagnosis of heart failure is serious and has the potential to be life-threatening. However, thanks to decades of research, we know there are many treatments available which can counter the effects of heart failure, slow or stop the progression of disease, and return many patients to normal lives.
Heart failure is a chronic condition which requires attentive care, adherence to a treatment plan and monitoring for progression. The outlook often depends upon the underlying cause and the response to treatment.
Knowledge Is PowerThirdly, as a patient, you can exert some control over your disease. Knowledge is power and understanding the particulars of your form of heart failure can help you self-monitor for changes, embrace healthy diet and lifestyle choices, and follow the regimen of medications which best manage the underlying disease.
Growing Research on Heart Disease
Finally, our knowledge about heart failure and treatment options is growing and ever changing. Today we use medications and other therapies that didn’t exist 10 years ago. The newest medications with powerful effects on symptoms and survival have been approved for use in the past two years.
Research into this condition is active and ongoing. Our ability to treat heart failure will only continue to improve. As a result, today we strive to treat to heart success, rather than failure.