Heart Failure

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is caused by diseases and conditions that damage the heart muscle. It develops over time as the heart’s pumping action grows weaker. It does not mean that the heart has or is about to stop, but it is a serious condition requiring medical attention. There is no cure, but with treatment and lifestyle changes, heart failure patients can live longer, more active lives. In most people with heart failure, the heart can’t contract with enough force to supply blood to the body. In others, the heart can’t easily fill with blood, causing a pressure backup. Some have both issues. About 5.8 million people in the U.S. have heart failure, and that number is increasing.

What are the signs and symptoms?

The most common signs and symptoms of heart failure, which result from fluid buildup in the body, are shortness of breath, fatigue and swelling in the ankles, feet, legs and abdomen. Other symptoms include weight gain, frequent urination and a cough that worsens at night or when lying down.

Methods of treatment

In order to effectively treat heart failure, its underlying cause must be identified and treated. There are several different medications that can lessen the effects of heart failure, and medical and surgical procedures that can be performed if medication and lifestyle changes are no longer controlling symptoms. For those with heart failure, eating a balanced, nutritious diet can help the heart work better. It is important to keep your daily sodium intake within the amount recommended by your doctor, as sodium can cause fluid build-up. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, but make sure that you’re taking in the right amount of potassium. Some heart failure medications deplete the levels of potassium in the body, potentially causing life-threatening heart rhythms. But too much potassium can be harmful as well.