Let’s shed some light on the meaning of heart failure, starting by stating that this condition reflects the heart’s inability to pump the sufficient amount of blood needed for the body to function properly.
This leads to an abnormal accumulation of fluid, especially in the lungs and lower limbs.
Let’s take a closer look at what this entails.
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A condition with a mortality rate
Heart failure is a condition that cannot be underestimated.
The mortality rates associated with decompensation are quite significant and anyone who has experienced an acute episode once may experience it again.
The causes of heart failure
But what are the causes of heart failure? Does it occur suddenly?
In reality, medical literature has shown that heart failure is almost always associated with other diseases involving the heart.
- ischaemic heart disease;
- coronary artery disease;
- arterial hypertension;
- congenital heart defects;
- pericardial diseases.
How the disease manifests itself: symptoms of heart failure
In the early stages of heart failure, distinguishing symptoms may not be so easy.
For example, symptoms such as significant swelling in the lower limbs (legs and feet), breathing difficulties, breathlessness, great exhaustion, loss of energy, disturbed sleep, abdominal bloating, excessive phlegm, coughing, mental confusion, memory loss and increased urination, especially during the night, may occur.
All this is a fairly important alarm bell: the blood is not getting to the various bodily systems properly.
How to make a correct diagnosis
In the presence of this symptomatology, or following an actual episode of heart failure, precise tests are carried out to identify the cause of the heart failure.
The doctor may propose an echocardiogram and an electrocardiogram to determine the state of health of the heart muscle, studying its anatomy and electrical activity.
The function of the heart valves, the integrity of the pericardium and other important parameters will also be assessed.
Recommended examinations also include a chest X-ray and complete blood tests to check the proper functioning of other organs, as well as stress tests and, possibly, cardiac catheterisation.
Avoiding heart failure at the table
No one would ever want to experience the symptoms of heart failure, despite some major illnesses.
It is scientifically proven that a healthy lifestyle can significantly help in reducing these episodes by controlling the lipid profile, hypertension, obesity and diabetes.
A healthy lifestyle should be adopted regardless, as the ‘guidelines’ are identical for preventing each disease.
An example? Starting with the diet: this must be rich in fibre, with sufficient portions of vegetables and fruit, favouring the consumption of whole grains, fish and white meat.
Excessive consumption of sweets, salt and saturated fats does not help the heart and can put it under stress.
Too much coffee could also worsen the situation, as could excessive alcohol consumption.
The importance of physical activity
But how, physical activity with a weak heart? Yes, as long as it is done correctly and at the right intensity.
On the advice of your doctor, following a constant and not too intense physical activity is a real cure-all for the heart.
Activities such as yoga and guided breathing are recommended to lower the heart rate.
To pursue a healthy lifestyle, a proper ratio between waking and sleeping hours is also necessary.
The latter is indeed crucial for living a better and less stressful life.
Is there a cure for heart failure?
Patients who have experienced it know how frightening and unpleasant it can be. The good news is that a therapy does exist, and it is mostly pharmacological.
However, the therapy must be tailored to the individual patient, as it must be chosen in accordance with his or her clinical and anamnestic picture.
Diuretics can be taken to eliminate fluid accumulation, as well as beta-blockers to control the force and frequency of cardiac contraction.
It is not uncommon for the doctor to also recommend drugs to correct any iron deficiency, since anaemia can worsen the clinical picture.
Beyond drug therapy
There are also some cases of heart failure that need non-pharmacological therapy.
In these cases, we are talking about medical devices for detecting malignant arrhythmias (such as cardiac defibrillators) and pacemakers, which are implanted in the patient’s chest.
These are ‘life-saving’ instruments, capable of helping the patient in a timely manner by sending electrical impulses to support or reactivate the heart’s electrical function.
Are all heart failures the same?
No, absolutely not.
Heart failures are differentiated according to their severity and are classified according to a scale, which we list below for your information:
This refers to a symptomless, asymptomatic patient. Heart failure is present but does not limit normal activities.
There is a feeling of fatigue and difficulty breathing following certain activities, such as long walks or going up and down stairs.
Class III heart failure occurs when one experiences severe fatigue from even minimal physical activity (getting out of bed), with dyspnoea.
In this case, all the symptoms listed above are present even at complete rest. You should go to the nearest hospital immediately.