Heart Failure - Symptoms
Symptoms of Heart Failure
Heart failure is described at the heart ceasing to perform its basic function, pumping blood, for some reason. One of the most common causes is ischemic heart disease, as well as various congenital or acquired heart defects and some pulmonary vascular disorders. Heart failure can be an acute condition, or the result of a long-term disease process, described as chronic heart failure.
Blood Circulation in the Heart
All veins in the body lead blood through the superior and inferior venae cavae into the right side of the heart, from where the blood flows further, into the right ventricle. The right ventricle expels the blood into the pulmonary arteries, branching off into arterioles and capillaries which then join again to lead the blood through the pulmonary vein, into the left atrium. In the lungs, blood gets rid of the waste it had been carrying and in turn takes oxygen from the alveoli. The blood flowing from the lungs into the atrium is rich in oxygen. From the atrium it flows into the left ventricle, which pumps it back into the body.
Symptoms of Heart Failure
The body of an individual undergoing heart failure is dealing with insufficient blood supply to its organs. Some organs, such as the brain, cannot suffer from lack of blood. Both types of heart failure are usually accompanied by arrhythmia, which is manifested by heart palpitations. Symptoms of heart failure depend on which part, more specifically which ventricle, is unable to perform its function. Heart failure is distinguished by right-sided and left-sided heart failure.
Right-Sided Heart Failure
Right-sided heart failure is when the right ventricle is unable to perform its function. This results in the accumulation of blood in the venous system and right atrium. Consequences of this include liver enlargement, which is often manifested by pain under the right ribcage. Increased body mass and swelling of the legs can also occur due to water retention. The affected patient can also experience digestive problems as a result of blood stasis in the organs of the abdominal cavity.
Left-Sided Heart Failure
Left-sided heart failure is when it is the left ventricle that fails to function properly. This causes blood to accumulate in the left atrium as well as the pulmonary arteries. The result is a condition known as pulmonary edema, i.e. swelling, where fluid accumulates in the lungs and causes shortness of breath (dyspnea). According to the level of heart failure, dyspnea can occur during minor or major physical stress, and in the most severe cases, even during rest. Typically dyspnea appears or worsens during the night, when the patient is awoken. The dyspnea is alleviated when sat up, possibly even by sleeping in a sitting position. Left-sided heart failure causes general symptoms as well, such as decreased urine output due to insufficient blood supply to the kidneys. Skeletal muscles also tend to experience insufficient blood supply, manifested by weakness and fatigue.
Heart failure can sometimes be asymptomatic. Often heart failure does not make itself known, or the affected individual does not make the connection between it and his or her symptoms. This usually happens with right ventricular failure, where before swelling of the legs, body mass increases. Due to this fact, sometimes heart failure is detected later. Heart failure can be a result of illnesses that can be avoided with a healthy lifestyle.
Surgical Treatment of Heart Failure
According to the underlying causes, other treatment methods can be applied, especially surgical treatment, i.e. cardiosurgery. Surgery is chosen when the cause of heart failure is a valve defect. In some cases a beneficial operation for the patient is when a pacemaker is implanted. This is a special electrical device given to patients whose heart beats too slow, as it stimulates the heart to contract. Sometimes a different device needs to be implanted, such as a defibrillator. A defibrillator controls the heart's rhythm and in the event of a malfunction, it is able to interrupt the arrhythmia by sending electrical shocks. There are also patients for whom a heart transplant is the only hope.
The Choice of Treatment for Heart Failure
Treatment of heart failure is often very complicated and strictly individual. This means that the treatment method that works for one patient can be completely unsuitable for another patient. Only a doctor is able to decide what combination of medication is most beneficial for a patient. Treatment through medication is long-term, often even life-long. Despite this, heart failure remains one of the most common causes of death in developed countries. This fact only confirms how important prevention and prompt diagnosis is, which leads to no severe consequences of poor lifestyle choices or at least consequences occurring at an early stage, when it is not too late.