Our heart plays a vital role in pumping blood to all parts of the body, meeting the demand adequately at all times. Any heart disease reduces the heart’s pumping capacity, but when it is reduced to an extent where the heart can’t meet the demands of the body, it leads to a condition called heart failure. Explaining the symptoms of heart failure, Dr Rajesh T R, Consultant Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeon, Kauvery Hospital, Bengaluru, says, “Individuals with heart failure feel tired and breathless. A person can become so breathless and tired that they can’t even get up from the bed or speak a full sentence without taking breaks to catch their breath!” Additionally, heart failure can cause excess water to accumulate in the body, causing swelling and weight gain. Swelling of the feet, bloated belly and water accumulation in the chest are common.
Causes Of Heart Failure
Dr Rajesh shares some common causes of heart failure:
- Heart diseases like coronary artery disease, where blocks develop in arteries supplying blood to the heart. This can cause heart attack and damage the heart muscle.
- Health conditions like diabetes and hypertension can affect the heart muscles or predispose to coronary artery disease, leading to heart failure.
- Faulty heart valves can lead to heart failure over a period of time.
- Cardiomyopathy is a condition where the heart muscle weakens. It can be idiopathic (where the cause is not known) or happen due to alcohol, infections like viral myocarditis, cancer-treating medicines, drugs like cocaine, etc.
- Sometimes, following intense emotional or physical stress, the heart muscle weakens, dilates, and leads to heart failure. This is called Broken Heart Syndrome or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
- In congenital heart disease, the heart is not formed correctly. People born with such defects are predisposed to heart failure.
Diagnosing And Managing Heart Failure
“Checking medical history, a simple physical exam, few blood tests, X-ray, ECG and echocardiogram are some of the routine things done to diagnose heart disease and heart failure. Sometimes, a CT scan and MRI may be required,” says Dr Rajesh.
In most patients, heart failure can be effectively managed with oral medications and simple measures. Sometimes, it may require hospitalisation and administration of injections. “The basic underlying cause has to be rectified, if possible. This may require an intervention or cardiac surgery. In a few patients, the condition can deteriorate to such an extent that medications become ineffective. This is called terminal heart failure. Even in such patients, treatment options are available, one of them being heart transplant,” shares Dr Rajesh.
Preventing Heart Failure
Protecting the heart from damage and keeping the heart healthy starts with making simple lifestyle changes. Dr Rajesh lists some tips for the same:
- Eat a balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Watch your weight and maintain it.
- Avoid smoking and restrict alcohol consumption.
- Lead an active life with plenty of exercise; a sedentary lifestyle is as bad as smoking.
- If one has diabetes, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, it has to be identified and treated appropriately. Most of the time it can be treated with diet and exercise. Sometimes medications will be necessary.
- Reduce mental stress. Turn to yoga or meditation, spend time with family and friends, pursue a hobby, take breaks, go out, etc.
- Get yourself checked regularly. If a problem is identified, address it promptly with expert help.
- Don’t fall prey to homemade and social-media remedies. Treat complications the right way before they cause permanent damage.
Also read: Antioxidants Help Prevent Heart Diseases. Check How You Can Include Them