Heart failure occurs when your heart is no longer meeting the blood-pumping needs of your body. In some cases, the heart lacks the force to pump blood through the body; in others, the heart does not fill with an adequate supply of blood. Some people have both types of heart failure simultaneously.
Heart failure doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped functioning or is about to. It's a condition that typically occurs gradually over time as the heart weakens.
Causes and Symptoms
Heart failure is often a complication of other conditions related to heart health, including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Thus, people who have problems that lead to these issues -- such as those who are obese or those who've had a heart attack -- are also at risk for heart failure. In children, congenital heart defects can ultimately lead to heart failure.
If you have heart failure, your body will give you a number of warning signs that something is wrong. They can include fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and lack of appetite. You may also find yourself getting confused or having impaired thinking. Breathing becomes more difficult, and coughing and wheezing are common. Swelling caused by fluid buildup can occur in various places in the body, and your heart rate may increase.
Prevention and Treatment
Eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake and exercising regularly can all help prevent heart failure as well as improve quality of life after it has occurred. Doctors generally prescribe a number of different types of medication to help with the symptoms and complications of heart failure. As heart failure advances, you may need a device like a pacemaker implanted into the body to assist your body in pumping blood properly. Heart transplants are a measure of last resort for people with severe heart failure when all other options have failed.
SOURCES: U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; American Heart Association
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