Heart Failure

HEART FAILURE

General Infomation
Definition: 

Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure (CHF), means your heart can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs. Over time, conditions such as narrowed arteries in your heart (coronary artery disease) or high blood pressure gradually leave your heart too weak or stiff to fill and pump efficiently.
You can't reverse many conditions that lead to heart failure, but heart failure can often be treated with good results. Medications can improve the signs and symptoms of heart failure. Lifestyle changes, such as exercising, reducing the salt in your diet, managing stress, treating depression, and especially losing excess weight, can improve your quality of life.
The best way to prevent heart failure is to control risk factors and conditions that cause heart failure, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or obesity.

Symptoms: 

Heart failure can be chronic — meaning your condition is ongoing — or acute, meaning your condition has started suddenly.
Chronic heart failure symptoms
• Shortness of breath (dyspnea) when you exert yourself or when you lie down
• Fatigue and weakness
• Swelling (edema) in your legs, ankles and feet
• Rapid or irregular heartbeat
• Reduced ability to exercise
• Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged phlegm
• Swelling of your abdomen (ascites)
• Sudden weight gain from fluid retention
• Lack of appetite and nausea
• Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness
Acute heart failure symptoms
• Symptoms similar to those of chronic heart failure, but more severe and start or worsen suddenly
• Sudden fluid buildup
• Rapid or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
• Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus
• Chest pain, if your heart failure is caused by a heart attack
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you experience any of the signs or symptoms associated with heart failure. These include:
• Chest pain
• Fatigue and weakness
• Rapid or irregular heartbeat
• Shortness of breath (dyspnea) when you exert yourself or when you lie down
• Reduced ability to exercise
• Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged phlegm
• Swelling in your abdomen, legs, ankles and feet
• Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness
You may first find out you have heart failure from an emergency room visit after worsening symptoms. Other heart and lung problems can cause symptoms that are similar to heart failure.
If you have a diagnosis of heart failure, and if any of the symptoms suddenly become worse or you develop a new sign or symptom, it may mean that existing heart failure is getting worse or not responding to treatment. Contact your doctor promptly.

Causes & Complication
Causes: 

Heart failure often develops after other conditions have damaged or weakened your heart. Over time, the heart can no longer keep up with the normal demands placed on it to pump blood to the rest of your body. The main pumping chambers of your heart (the ventricles) may become stiff and not fill properly between beats. Also, your heart muscle may weaken, and the ventricles stretch (dilate) to the point that the heart can't pump blood efficiently throughout your body. The term "congestive heart failure" comes from blood backing up into — or congesting — the liver, abdomen, lower extremities and lungs.
Heart failure can involve the left side, right side or both sides of your heart. Typically, heart failure begins with the left side — specifically the left ventricle, your heart's main pumping chamber.

Risk Factors: 

A single risk factor may be enough to cause heart failure, but a combination of factors increases your risk.
Risk factors include:
• High blood pressure. Your heart works harder than it has to if your blood pressure is high.
• Coronary artery disease. Narrowed arteries may limit your heart's supply of oxygen-rich blood, resulting in weakened heart muscle.
• Heart attack. Damage to your heart muscle from a heart attack may mean your heart can no longer pump as well as it should.
• Irregular heartbeats. These abnormal rhythms can create extra work for your heart, weakening the heart muscle.
• Diabetes. Having diabetes increases your risk of high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.
• Some diabetes medications. The diabetes drugs rosiglitazone (Avandia) and pioglitazone (Actos) have been found to increase the risk of heart failure. Don't stop taking these medications on your own, though. If you're taking them, discuss with your doctor whether you need to make any changes.
• Sleep apnea. The inability to breathe properly at night results in low blood oxygen levels and increased risk of abnormal heart rhythms. Both of these problems can weaken the heart.
• Congenital heart defects. Some people who develop heart failure were born with structural heart defects.
• Viruses. A viral infection may have damaged your heart muscle.
• Alcohol use. Drinking too much alcohol can weaken heart muscle and lead to heart failure.
• Kidney conditions. These can contribute to heart failure because many can lead to high blood pressure and fluid retention.

Complications: 

If you have heart failure, your outlook depends on the cause and the severity, your overall health, and other factors such as your age. Complications can include:
• Kidney damage or failure. Heart failure can reduce the blood flow to your kidneys, which can eventually cause kidney failure if left untreated. Kidney damage from heart failure can require dialysis for treatment.
• Heart valve problems. The valves of your heart, which keep blood flowing in the proper direction through your heart, can become damaged from the blood and fluid buildup from heart failure.
• Liver damage. Heart failure can lead to a buildup of fluid that puts too much pressure on the liver. This fluid backup can lead to scarring, which makes it more difficult for your liver to function properly.
• Heart attack and stroke. Because blood flow through the heart is slower in heart failure than in a normal heart, it's more likely you'll develop blood clots, which can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Some people's symptoms and heart function will improve with proper treatment. However, heart failure can be life-threatening. It can lead to sudden death. People with heart failure may have severe symptoms, and some may require heart transplantation or support with an artificial heart device.

Tests
Tests and Diagnosis: 

To diagnose heart failure, your doctor will take a careful medical history and perform a physical examination. Your doctor will also check for the presence of risk factors such as high blood pressure. Using a stethoscope, your doctor can listen to your lungs for signs of congestion. The stethoscope also picks up abnormal heart sounds that may suggest heart failure. The doctor may examine the veins in your neck and check for fluid buildup in your abdomen and legs. After the physical exam, your doctor may also order some of these tests:
• Blood tests. Your doctor may take a sample of your blood to check your kidney and thyroid function and to look for indicators of other diseases that affect the heart. A blood test to check for a chemical called brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) can help check the pressure in your heart and help in diagnosing heart failure.
• Chest X-ray. X-ray images help your doctor see the condition of your lungs and heart. In heart failure, your heart may appear enlarged and fluid buildup may be visible in your lungs. Your doctor can also use an X-ray to diagnose conditions other than heart failure that may explain your signs and symptoms.
• Electrocardiogram (ECG). This test records the electrical activity of your heart through electrodes attached to your skin. Impulses are recorded as waves and displayed on a monitor or printed on paper. This test helps your doctor diagnose heart rhythm problems and damage to your heart from a heart attack that may be underlying heart failure.
• Echocardiogram. An important test for diagnosing and monitoring heart failure is the echocardiogram. An echocardiogram also helps distinguish systolic heart failure from diastolic heart failure, in which the heart is stiff and can't fill properly. An echocardiogram uses sound waves to produce a video image of your heart. This image can help doctors determine how well your heart is pumping by measuring the percentage of blood pumped out of your heart's main pumping chamber (the left ventricle) with each heartbeat. This measurement is called the ejection fraction. The echocardiogram can also look for valve problems or evidence of previous heart attacks, as well as some unusual causes of heart failure.
• Ejection fraction. Your ejection fraction is measured during an echocardiogram. An ejection fraction is an important measurement of how well your heart is pumping and is used to help classify heart failure and guide treatment. In a healthy heart, the ejection fraction is about 55 percent — meaning that over half of the blood that fills the ventricle is pumped out with each beat.
• Stress test. Stress tests measure how your heart and blood vessels respond to exertion. You may walk on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bike while attached to an ECG machine. Or you may receive a drug intravenously that stimulates your heart similar to exercise. Stress tests help doctors see if you have coronary artery disease. Stress tests also determine how well your body is responding to your heart's decreased pumping effectiveness and can help guide long-term treatment decisions. If your doctor also wants to see images of your heart while you're exercising, he or she may order a nuclear stress test, which is similar to an exercise stress test, but also uses an injected dye and special imaging techniques.
• Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tests can be used to diagnose heart problems, including causes of heart failure. In a cardiac CT scan, you lie on a table inside a doughnut-shaped machine. An X-ray tube inside the machine rotates around your body and collects images of your heart and chest.
In a cardiac MRI, you lie on a table inside a long tube-like machine that produces a magnetic field. The magnetic field aligns atomic particles in some of your cells. When radio waves are broadcast toward these aligned particles, they produce signals that vary according to the type of tissue they are. The signals create images of your heart.
• Coronary catheterization (angiogram). In this test, a thin, flexible tube (catheter) is inserted into a blood vessel at your groin or arm and guided through the aorta into your coronary arteries. A dye injected through the catheter makes the arteries supplying your heart visible on an X-ray. This test helps doctors identify narrowed arteries to your heart (coronary artery disease) that can be a cause of heart failure. The test may include a ventriculogram — a procedure to determine the strength of the heart's main pumping chamber (left ventricle) and the health of the heart valves.
Classifying heart failure
Results of these tests help doctors determine the cause of your signs and symptoms and develop a program to treat your heart. To determine the best course of treatment, doctors may classify heart failure using two scales:
• New York Heart Association scale. This scale classifies heart failure in categories from one to four. In Class I heart failure, the mildest form, you can perform everyday activities and not feel winded or fatigued. Class IV is the most severe, and you're short of breath even at rest.
• American College of Cardiology scale. This classification system uses letters A to D. The system includes a category for people who are at risk of developing heart failure. For example, a person who has several risk factors for heart failure is Stage A, but a person with end-stage heart failure requiring hospice care is Stage D. Doctors use this classification system to identify your risk factors and begin early, more aggressive treatment to help prevent or delay heart failure.
Ask your doctor about your score if you're interested in determining the severity of your heart failure. Your doctor can help you interpret your score and plan your treatment based on your condition.

Medication & Prevention
Treatments and Drugs: 

Heart failure is a chronic disease needing lifelong management. However, with treatment, signs and symptoms of heart failure can improve and the heart sometimes becomes stronger. Doctors sometimes can correct heart failure by treating the underlying cause. For example, repairing a heart valve or controlling a fast heart rhythm may reverse heart failure. But for most people, the treatment of heart failure involves a balance of the right medications, and in some cases, devices that help the heart beat and contract properly.
Medications
Doctors usually treat heart failure with a combination of medications. Depending on your symptoms, you might take one or more of these drugs. They include:
• Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. These drugs help people with heart failure live longer and feel better. ACE inhibitors are a type of vasodilator, a drug that widens blood vessels to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow and decrease the workload on the heart. Examples include enalapril (Vasotec), lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril) and captopril (Capoten).
• Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs). These drugs, which include losartan (Cozaar) and valsartan (Diovan), have many of the same benefits as ACE inhibitors. They may be an alternative for people who can't tolerate ACE inhibitors.
• Digoxin (Lanoxin). This drug, also referred to as digitalis, increases the strength of your heart muscle contractions. It also tends to slow the heartbeat. Digoxin reduces heart failure symptoms and improves your ability to live with the condition.
• Beta blockers. This class of drugs slows your heart rate and reduces blood pressure. Examples include carvedilol (Coreg), metoprolol (Lopressor) and bisoprolol (Zebeta). These medicines also reduce the risk of some abnormal heart rhythms. Beta blockers may reduce signs and symptoms of heart failure and improve heart function.
• Diuretics. Often called water pills, diuretics make you urinate more frequently and keep fluid from collecting in your body. Commonly prescribed diuretics for heart failure include bumetanide (Bumex) and furosemide (Lasix). The drugs also decrease fluid in your lungs, so you can breathe more easily. Because diuretics make your body lose potassium and magnesium, your doctor may also prescribe supplements of these minerals. If you're taking a diuretic, your doctor will likely monitor levels of potassium and magnesium in your blood through regular blood tests.
• Aldosterone antagonists. These drugs include spironolactone (Aldactone) and eplerenone (Inspra). They're primarily potassium-sparing diuretics, but they have additional properties that help the heart work better, may reverse scarring of the heart and may help people with severe heart failure live longer. Unlike some other diuretics, spironolactone can raise the level of potassium in your blood to dangerous levels, so talk to your doctor if increased potassium is a concern.
You'll probably need to take two or more medications to treat heart failure. Your doctor may prescribe other heart medications as well — such as nitrates for chest pain, a statin to lower cholesterol or blood-thinning medications to help prevent blood clots — along with heart failure medications.
You may be hospitalized for a few days if you have a flare-up of heart failure symptoms. While in the hospital, you may receive additional medications to help your heart pump better and relieve your symptoms. You may also receive supplemental oxygen through a mask or small tubes placed in your nose. If you have severe heart failure, you may need to use supplemental oxygen long term.
Surgery and medical devices
In some cases, doctors recommend surgery to treat the underlying problem that led to heart failure. Some treatments being studied and used in certain people include:
• Coronary bypass surgery. If severely blocked arteries are contributing to your heart failure, your doctor may recommend coronary artery bypass surgery. In this procedure, a vein from your leg, arm or chest replaces a blocked vein in your heart to allow blood to flow through your heart more freely.
• Heart valve repair or replacement. If a faulty heart valve causes your heart failure, your doctor may recommend repairing or replacing the valve. The surgeon can modify the original valve (valvuloplasty) to eliminate backward blood flow. Surgeons also can repair the valve by reconnecting valve leaflets or by removing excess valve tissue so that the leaflets can close tightly. Sometimes repairing the valve includes tightening or replacing the ring around the valve (annuloplasty). Valve replacement is done when valve repair isn't possible. In valve replacement surgery, the damaged valve is replaced by an artificial (prosthetic) valve.
• Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs). An ICD is a device implanted under the skin and attached through the veins in your chest to your heart with small wires. The ICD monitors the heart rhythm. If the heart starts beating at a dangerous rhythm, or if your heart stops, the ICD tries to shock it back into normal rhythm.
• Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) or biventricular pacing. A biventricular pacemaker sends timed electrical impulses to both of the heart's lower chambers (the left and right ventricles), so that they pump in a more efficient, coordinated manner. As many as half the people with heart failure have problems with their heart's electrical system that cause their already-weak heart muscle to beat in an uncoordinated fashion. This inefficient muscle contraction may cause heart failure to worsen. Often a biventricular pacemaker is combined with an ICD for people with heart failure.
• Heart pumps (left ventricular assist devices, or LVADs). These mechanical devices are implanted into the abdomen or chest and attached to a weakened heart to help it pump. Doctors first used heart pumps to help keep heart transplant candidates alive while they waited for a donor heart.
LVADs are now sometimes used as an alternative to transplantation. Implanted heart pumps can significantly extend and improve the lives of some people with severe heart failure who aren't eligible for or able to undergo heart transplantation or are waiting for a new heart.
• Heart transplant. Some people have such severe heart failure that surgery or medications don't help. They may need to have their diseased heart replaced with a healthy donor heart. Heart transplants can dramatically improve the survival and quality of life of some people with severe heart failure. However, candidates for transplantation often have to wait months or years before a suitable donor heart is found. Some transplant candidates improve during this waiting period through drug treatment or device therapy and can be removed from the transplant waiting list.
End-of-life care and heart failure
Even with the number of treatments available for heart failure, it's possible that your heart failure may worsen to the point a heart transplant isn't an option, and you may need to enter hospice care. Hospice care provides a special course of treatment to terminally ill people.
Hospice care allows family and friends — with the aid of nurses, social workers and trained volunteers — to care for and comfort a loved one at home or in hospice residences. It also provides emotional, social and spiritual support for people who are ill and those closest to them. Although most people under hospice care remain in their own homes, the program is available anywhere — including nursing homes and assisted living centers. For people who stay in a hospital, specialists in end-of-life care can provide comfort, compassionate care and dignity.
Although it can be extremely difficult, discuss end-of-life issues with your family and medical team. Part of this discussion will likely involve advance directives — a general term for oral and written instructions you give concerning your medical care should you become unable to speak for yourself. If you have an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), one important consideration to discuss with your family and doctors is turning off the defibrillator so it can't deliver shocks to make your heart continue beating.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies: 

Making lifestyle changes can often help relieve signs and symptoms of heart failure and prevent the disease from worsening. These changes may be among the most important and beneficial you can make:
• Stop smoking. Smoking damages your blood vessels, reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and makes your heart beat faster. If you smoke, ask your doctor to recommend a program to help you quit. You can't be considered for a heart transplant if you continue to smoke.
• Weigh yourself daily. Do this each morning after you've urinated, but before you've had breakfast. Notify your doctor if you have a weight gain of 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms) or more pounds in a day. It may mean that you're retaining fluids and need a change in your treatment plan. Record your weight every morning and bring the record with you to your doctor's visits.
• Restrict sodium. Sodium is a component of salt. Too much sodium contributes to water retention, which makes your heart work harder and causes shortness of breath and swollen legs, ankles and feet. For people with heart failure, the daily recommended amount of dietary sodium is no more than 2,000 milligrams a day. Keep in mind that most of this salt is already added to prepared foods, and be careful when using salt substitutes.
• Maintain a healthy weight. If you're overweight, your dietitian will help you work toward your ideal weight.
• Limit fats and cholesterol. In addition to avoiding high-sodium foods, limit the amount of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol in your diet. A diet high in fat and cholesterol is a risk factor for coronary artery disease, which often underlies or contributes to heart failure.
• Limit alcohol and fluids. Your doctor likely will recommend that you don't drink alcohol if you have heart failure, since it can interact with your medication, weaken your heart muscle and increase your risk of abnormal heart rhythms. If you have severe heart failure, your doctor may also suggest you limit the amount of fluids you drink.
• Exercise. Moderate exercise helps keep the rest of your body healthy and conditioned, reducing the demands on your heart muscle. Before you start exercising though, talk to your doctor about an exercise program that's right for you. Your doctor may suggest a walking program. Check with your local hospital to see if it offers a cardiac rehabilitation program; if it does, talk to your doctor about enrolling in the program.
• Reduce stress. When you're anxious or upset, your heart beats faster and you breathe more heavily. This can make heart failure worse, since your heart is already having trouble meeting the body's demands. Find ways to reduce stress in your life. To give your heart a rest, try napping or putting your feet up when possible.
• Sleep easy. If you're having shortness of breath, especially at night, sleep with your head propped up at a 45-degree angle using a pillow or a wedge. If you snore or have had other sleep problems, make sure you get tested for sleep apnea.
To improve your sleep at night, prop up your head with pillows and avoid big meals right before bedtime. Also, discuss with your doctor changing the time for taking medications, especially diuretics. Taking diuretics earlier in the day may keep you from having to urinate as often during the night.

Prevention: 

The key to preventing heart failure is to reduce your risk factors. You can control or eliminate many of the risk factors for heart disease — high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, for example — by making lifestyle changes along with the help of any needed medications.
Lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent heart failure include:
• Not smoking
• Controlling certain conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
• Staying physically active
• Eating healthy foods
• Maintaining a healthy weight
• Reducing and managing stress

By Anonymous on 02 May 2011