Heart Failure (cardiomyopathy/heart muscle disease/heart inflammation)
What is Heart Failure?
Heart failure is when your heart cannot pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. This chronic, progressive condition doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped working, it means that it doesn’t work the way it should, putting you at risk for a heart attack. Heart failure is more common if you’re 65 or older and men have a higher rate of heart failure than women.
When your heart starts to fail to meet the workload, it tries to compensate by:
- Enlarging as it stretches to contract more strongly to keep up with the demand to meet your body’s needs for blood and oxygen.
- Developing more muscle mass due to the enlargement of the heart. This may let the heart respond more strongly initially.
- Pumping faster to help increase the heart’s output.
- Additionally, your blood vessels may narrow to keep your blood pressure up.
- These temporary measures only mask the problem, until they no longer work and your heart begins to fail.
Having regular checkups with your Saint John’s Physician Partners doctor is a wise decision to make sure that heart failure is caught early enough for treatment and lifestyle changes.
Heart Failure Symptoms
Typical heart failure symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath during normal activities.
- Feeling tired or weak.
- Trouble breathing when lying down.
- Swelling in the feet, legs, ankles or stomach.
Heart Failure Risks and Complications
Your Saint John’s Physician Partners cardiologist will look at underlying conditions that can increase your risk of heart failure, including:
Heart Failure Diagnosis
To diagnose heart failure, your cardiologist may order the following tests:
An Electrocardiogram (ECG) is used to record your heart’s electrical activity.
A chest X-ray can show if your heart is enlarged or if your lungs have fluid.
BNP Blood Test
BNP blood test checks for the BNP hormone since the levels rise during heart failure.
Echocardiography uses sound waves to show how well your heart chambers and valves work.
Holter monitor is when you wear a recorder to record your heart’s electrical activity for 4 to 48 hours.
Doppler ultrasound uses sound waves to get a clear picture of the blood flow to the heart and the lungs.
Nuclear heart scan
Nuclear heart scan is when a radioactive tracer is injected in your bloodstream to create a picture of your heart.
Coronary angiography is usually done during cardiac catheterization to show how well your heart is working.
Cardia magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio waves to create a picture of your heart as it’s beating.
Exercise Treadmill Test
Exercise treadmill test shows how well your heart is functioning under stress.
Thyroid Function Test
Thyroid function test can show if you have too much or too little thyroid hormone that can lead to heart failure.
Heart Failure Treatments
Treatment for heart failure may involve:
Your cardiologist may prescribe the following based on the severity and type of heart failure:
- ACE inhibitors can lower blood pressure and strain on your heart.
- Aldosterone antagonists help to remove excess sodium through your urine.
- Angiotensin receptor blockers help relax your blood vessels to lower blood pressure.
- Beta blockers slow your heart rate and lowers blood pressure.
- Digoxin makes your heart beat stronger.
- Diuretics make you pee to reduce fluid build up in your lungs and swelling in your feet and ankles.
- Hydralazine hydrochloride relaxes your blood vessels so your heart doesn’t have to work so hard.
Your doctor will review your medication options as part of your treatment plan and discuss benefits and possible risks and complications so you can make an informed decision.
Working with your doctor, these lifestyle changes can help you better manage your health if you are at risk for heart failure.
- Eat foods low in trans fats and saturated fats.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Eat more fiber-rich foods.
- Eat more omega-3s, which can found in certain fish.
- Drink skim or low fat milk.
- Avoid sugary drink or added sugars.
- Limit alcohol.
- Quit smoking.
- Regular physical activity.
- Manage stress.
- Take your medication properly.
- Follow your doctor’s recommendations.
Surgical procedures and devices recommended by your cardiologist may include:
- A pacemaker, which is a device implanted in your chest to resynchronize the contractions of your left and right sides of your heart to decrease heart failure symptoms.
- A cardioverter defibrillator may be help if you have very rapid and irregular heartbeats that may cause sudden heart attacks. This device checks your heart rate and uses electrical pulses to correct this.
- A mechanical heart pump that helps pump blood from the heart to the rest of your body. This may be a temporary solution until you have heart surgery.
- A heart transplant is a life-saving measure for end-stage heart failure when all other treatments have failed.