Understanding Heart Failure
(BlackDoctor.org) — Heart failure does not mean the heart has stopped working. Rather, it means that the heart’s pumping power is weaker than normal. Understanding Heart Failure As a result, the heart cannot pump enough oxygen and nutrients to meet the body’s needs. The chambers of the heart respond by stretching to hold more blood to pump through the body. This helps to keep the blood moving, but in time, the heart muscle walls weaken and are unable to pump as strongly. As a result, the kidneys often respond by causing the body to retain fluid (water) and sodium. If fluid builds up in the arms, legs, ankles, feet, lungs or other organs, the body becomes congested, and congestive heart failure is the term used to describe the condition. Heart failure is caused by many conditions that damage the heart muscle, including:
- Coronary artery disease: CAD, a disease of the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart, causes decreased blood flow to the heart muscle. If the arteries become blocked, the heart becomes starved for oxygen and nutrients.
- Heart Attack: A heart attack may occur when a coronary artery becomes suddenly blocked, stopping the flow of blood to the heart muscle and damaging it. All or part of the heart muscle becomes cut off from its supply of oxygen. A heart attack can damage the heart muscle, resulting in a scarred area that does not function properly.
- Cardiomyopathy: Damage to the heart muscle from causes other than artery or blood flow problems, such as from infections or alcohol or drug abuse.
- Conditions that overwork the heart: High blood pressure (hypertension), valve disease, thyroid disease, kidney disease, diabetes or heart defects present at birth can all cause heart failure. In addition, heart failure can occur when several diseases or conditions are present at once.
The symptoms of heart failure are related to the changes that occur to your heart and body, and may be moderate to severe, depending on how weak your heart is. The symptoms can include:
- Congested lungs: Fluid back up in the lungs can cause shortness of breath with exercise or difficulty breathing at rest or when lying flat in bed. Lung congestion also causes a dry, hacking cough or wheezing.
- Fluid and water retention: Less blood to your kidneys causes fluid and water retention, resulting in swollen ankles, legs and abdomen (called edema) and weight gain. Symptoms may cause an increased need to urinate during the night. Bloating in your stomach may cause a loss of appetite or nausea.
- Dizziness, fatigue and weakness: Less blood to your major organs and muscles makes you feel tired and weak. Less blood to the brain can cause dizziness or confusion.
- Rapid or irregular heartbeats: The heart beats faster to pump enough blood to the body. This causes a fast or irregular heartbeat.
If you have heart failure, you may have one or all of these symptoms or you may have none of them. In addition, your symptoms may not be related to how weak your heart is; you may have many symptoms but your heart function may be only mildly weakened. Or you may have a more severely damaged heart but have no symptoms.
The goals of treating heart failure are primarily to decrease the likelihood of disease progression (thereby decreasing the risk of death and the need for hospitalization), to lessen symptoms and to improve quality of life.
Your Heart Is An Amazing Organ
(BlackDoctor.org) Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American men and women. But, it doesn’t have to be.
Heart failure affects some 4.6 million Americans. Roughly 550,000 people are diagnosed with heart failure each year. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65. Your heart is an amazing organ. It continuously pumps oxygen and nutrient-rich blood throughout your body to sustain life. This fist-sized powerhouse beats (expands and contracts) 100,000 times per day, pumping five or six quarts of blood each minute, or about 2000 gallons per day. As the heart beats, it pumps blood through a system of blood vessels, called the circulatory system. The vessels are elastic tubes that carry blood to every part of the body.
Blood is essential. In addition to carrying fresh oxygen from the lungs and nutrients to your body’s tissues, it also takes the body’s waste products, including carbon dioxide, away from the tissues. This is necessary to sustain life and promote the health of all the body’s tissues.
There are three main types of blood vessels:
- Arteries: They begin with the aorta, the large artery leaving the heart. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to all of the body’s tissues. They branch several times, becoming smaller and smaller as they carry blood farther from the heart and into organs.
- Capillaries: These are small, thin blood vessels that connect the arteries and the veins. Their thin walls allow oxygen, nutrients, carbon dioxide and other waste products to pass to and from our organ’s cells.
- Veins: These are blood vessels that take blood back to the heart; this blood lacks oxygen (oxygen-poor) and is rich in waste products that are to be excreted or removed from the body. Veins become larger and larger as they get closer to the heart. The superior vena cava is the large vein that brings blood from the head and arms to the heart, and the inferior vena cava brings blood from the abdomen and legs into the heart.
This vast system of blood vessels — arteries, veins and capillaries — is over 60,000 miles long. That’s long enough to go around the world more than twice! Blood flows continuously through your body’s blood vessels. Your heart is the pump that makes it all possible.
By Glenn Ellis, Executive Editor, BlackDoctor.Org