What causes heart failure?
Heart Failure is caused by the heart's inability to pump blood effectively; this can be caused by coronary heart disease, in which the arteries providing blood to the heart become narrowed by plaque accumulations.
In addition to coronary heart disease, causes of heart failure include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Certain infectious diseases
- Congenital heart disease
- Heart valve damage
Other factors leading to heart failure may include:
- Age. Your risk of heart problems increases as you get older.
- Family history of heart disease. You are at higher risk if a parent or sibling had cardiovascular disease, especially at an early age.
- Congenital defects. Birth defects that affect the size, shape or function of the heart can cause heart failure and other cardiac problems.
How is heart failure diagnosed?
If you are having symptoms of heart failure, your regular physician may order a diagnostic test such as an echocardiogram or refer you to a cardiologist. An echocardiogram uses safe, painless sound waves to determine how well the heart is functioning, including providing your ejection fraction.
"Ejection fraction" is the percentage of blood that is pumped out of the heart with each contraction. It is used to monitor the pumping efficiency of your heart. In a healthy heart, each contraction pushes out 50 to 75 percent of the blood in the heart. A normal ejection fraction is about 60 percent.
Other diagnostic procedures may include
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Nuclear medicine scan
- Cardiac catheterization
All of these diagnostic capabilities are available at St. Mary's.
Is heart failure a "death sentence"?
Definitely not. Heart failure can be controlled and managed. Modern treatments such as those available through St. Mary's can help most heart failure patients continue to lead active, meaningful lives for many years. Talk to your cardiac specialist to develop the treatment plan that is right for you. Common treatment options include:
Weight loss and management – Because the swelling, fatigue and shortness of breath that often come with heart failure can make exercise difficult, many heart failure patients become overweight. Excess weight increases the strain on all parts of your body, including your heart, and also makes exercise harder and more uncomfortable. Safe, supervised weight loss can reduce symptoms, improve heart function, and help other organs such as the lungs, brain and kidneys.
Medication therapy – Medicines such as ACE-inhibitors, Beta Blockers and diuretics can reduce the workload on the heart and relieve the build-up of fluids in the body
How can I prevent heart failure?
Most of the factors that cause heart failure also cause heart attack, stroke and other serious health problems. The good news is that many of the most important factors are within your control.
Preventing Heart Failure through diet and lifestyle change.
- Maintain and monitor weight. Weigh yourself daily. If you notice a weight gain of more than 3-5 pounds per week, call your doctor.
- Exercise. Exercise enhances the health of your heart and lungs and controls blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.
- If you don't smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about effective ways to end your tobacco addiction.
- Choose a diet low in sodium and rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, low in fats, sugars and processed foods. A registered dietitian can help you make the transition from an unhealthy diet to a healthy one; ask your doctor for a referral.
- Use alcohol in moderation or not at all.
- Be advised: Cocaine and certain other illegal substances can cause serious damage to the heart, sometimes on the first use.
Find out more!
Your best source of information is your doctor. If you are concerned about your risk factors or believe you may be developing early symptoms, schedule an appointment with him or her. Be sure to write down your questions and bring them with you. It's also good to bring a family member or friend to help you remember what the doctor says.
For even more information, visit these credible websites:
St. Mary's Cardiac Rehabilitation Program also can provide basic information and recommendations for further reading. Call (706) 389-2919 to find out more.
- Barnes-Jewish Hospital, "Understanding Ejection Fraction"
- MayoClinic.com, "Ejection fraction: What does it measure?"
- Guidant Corporation
- Discovery Hospital
- National Institutes of Health, Medline Plus
- "Managing Heart Failure," Hospital Educators Resource Catalogue, Inc. (HERC Publishing)
- John Layher, MD
Oconee Heart and Vascular Center