Heart failure is a major problem in the United States and is the leading cause of death which makes the term quite frightening. Heart failure is very common, however the name of the condition can be confusing. Heart failure does not mean your heart has “failed” or stopped beating. It means that your heart cannot pump blood as well as it should. Currently, it is estimated that there are nearly 6.5 million Americans over the age of 20 that have heart failure.
What is Heart Failure?
Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to support all of the other organs in your body. It is a progressive condition in which the heart’s muscle gets injured over time from things like a heart attack, obesity, or high blood pressure. These conditions cause the heart to lose its ability to pump enough blood to supply the body’s needs.
What Causes Heart Failure?
Heart failure develops over time after certain conditions affect and damage your heart. There are many different causes of heart failure including:
- Heart attack or coronary artery disease: Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease and results from the buildup of fatty deposits (plaque) in your arteries. This reduces blood flow and can lead to heart attack. Typically people with bad diets have a higher chance of developing coronary artery disease. It is recommended to stay away from processed, sugary foods.
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure can happen because of unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as not getting enough regular physical activity and eating unhealthy foods. When you have high blood pressure, your heart has to work harder than it should to circulate blood throughout your body.
- Damage to heart muscles: Heart muscle damage, also known as cardiomyopathy, can cause heart failure as your heart has to work harder through other muscles to pump blood. Cardiomyopathy can have many causes such as alcohol and drug abuse or an infection or disease.
- Heart arrhythmias: Arrhythmia, also known as abnormal heart rhythms, may cause your heart to beat too slow or too fast, which creates extra work for your heart and can lead to heart failure.
- Obesity: Obesity does an unfathomable amount of damage to your body, including your heart. When a person is obese, it leads to structural and functional changes of the heart. Being overweight can lead to fatty material building up in your arteries which clogs the arteries and can lead to a heart attack.
Types of Heart Failure
There are two types of heart failure:
- Systolic heart failure: This occurs when your heart muscle doesn’t squeeze hard enough with force. When a person has systolic heart failure, the heart pumps less oxygen-rich blood through the body.
- Diastolic heart failure: This occurs when your heart squeezes normally, however the ventricle, the main pumping chamber in your heart, doesn’t relax properly. When this happens, less blood can enter your heart and the blood pressure in your lungs goes up.
Stages of Heart Failure
In order to determine the best course of treatment for heart failure, physicians look at which stage of heart failure (HF) a patient is at as well as their functional status .The American Heart Association has classified that heart failure has four stages.
- Stage A: Stage A is diagnosed by risk factors. This is the period when you’re most likely to develop heart disease because of diabetes, high blood pressure, alcohol abuse or coronary artery disease. During stage A, symptoms are not prevalent yet and healthier lifestyle choices can reverse certain conditions. Doctors will most likely recommend regular exercise, a healthier diet, and that you refrain from smoking, drinking and using drugs.
- Stage B: When a person is in stage B of heart failure, it means they have some sort of structural heart disease without any symptoms. In stage B, it is clear that there is some sort of structural abnormality in the heart, whether that’s arrhythmia, heart valve malfunction, or a blockage in the heart arteries. Treatment for stage B will vary from person to person but can include medicine such as beta blockers or even surgery to repay coronary arteries and valves.
- Stage C: Stage C of heart failure means that a person has structural heart disease and has symptoms, prior or current. Some symptoms may include shortness of breath, fatigue, and less ability to exercise. This stage is very serious and can alter everyday life making even the smallest tasks difficult to accomplish. Your doctor may prescribe beta-blockers, a pacemaker, and other prescription medications to help with symptoms. In this stage, it’s very important to watch what you eat and ensure you’re getting exercise if you’re overweight.
- Stage D: Stage D is the most severe stage of heart failure and in this stage the heart is not pumping enough blood to keep all of your body’s organs functioning properly. It required a lot of medical attention and some very intrusive surgical procedures like a heart transplant or insertion of ventricular assist devices. While the treatment options for stage D heart failure have evolved and improved over the years, the treatment’s success still heavily depends on the level of commitment and the significant lifestyle changes that need to be met by the patient. The patient must be committed to regular exercise, healthy eating, avoiding smoking and abusing drugs, and keeping consistent to see changes and improvements in heart health.
Heart failure can become a life-threatening condition if left untreated and can be avoidable and curable at an early stage with lifestyle changes. Living with heart failure means staying on top of your heart health with healthy lifestyle habits and treatment to prevent further complications. Remember, this chronic condition can happen to anyone which is why it is so important to practice healthy, sustainable habits. Try exercising everyday, even if you’re just going for a walk, eating more fruits and vegetables, and avoiding alcohol and other drugs when possible.