Heart Failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart stops being able to pump blood around the body in an efficient way. This does not mean the heart has completely stopped working – rather it is no longer functioning in the way that it should.

When blood is pumped around the body, it carries with it oxygen and nutrients that provide energy to vital organs. If blood flow is restricted, it can affect the function of vital organs, resulting in debilitating symptoms.

Causes

Heart failure can occur for a number of reasons. It can happen slowly, over a number of months or years, or all of a sudden.

Some causes of heart failure include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Damaged heart valves
  • Heart attack
  • Angina
  • Weakness of the heart muscles (cardiomyopathy)
  • Heart rhythm disturbance (atrial fibrillation)
  • Congenital conditions (inherited)

Symptoms

The main symptoms of heart failure are breathlessness, extreme fatigue and ankle swelling. However, these symptoms are also common to other conditions, so it is important to see a health professional to get a proper diagnosis.

Other symptoms include: a rapid heart rate, weight loss, reduction in appetite and a persistent cough.

Diagnosis

If you or your GP suspects that you have heart failure, you may be required to have a number of tests to aid diagnosis. These may include: blood tests, breathing tests, an electrocardiogram (which records the electrical activity of your heart) and an echocardiogram (which uses ultrasound waves to examine the structure and function of the heart)

Due to the debilitating nature of some of the symptoms of heart failure, the condition can drastically interfere with everyday life.

Treatment

In the majority of cases, heart failure is a long-term condition that cannot be cured. For these people, ongoing medical treatment will be required (although those with severe symptoms may require immediate surgery or even a heart transplant)

Depending on the nature of the problem(s) that is causing heart failure, one or more of the following treatments may be carried out:

  • Lifestyle changes – Eating more healthily, quitting smoking (if you smoke), and doing more exercise can prevent further damage and decrease pressure on the heart
  • Devices: In cases where heart failure is caused by abnormal heart rhythms, a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD) may be needed. When the walls of the left ventricle are not in synch with each other, cardiac re-synchronisation therapy (CRT) may be used to restore their function and make them contract at the same time.
  • Surgery:  For patients whose heart failure is caused by coronary heart disease, a coronary angioplasty or a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) may be required. For those with damaged or diseased heart valves, a valve replacement or repair will be recommended. Individuals with severe heart failure may be offered a left ventricular assist device to boost the heart’s left ventricle and its ability to pump blood. A heart transplant may also be offered as a last resort.