Heart Disease & Heart Failure
When the Heart Fails
Heart failure is a serious heart condition characterized by the inability of the heart to pump sufficient blood throughout the body. Major risk factors for heart failure include high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and diabetes. Other heart problems like arrhythmias or heart valve disease may also contribute to the development of heart failure.
Understanding Heart Failure
To understand heart failure, let’s review how the heart works. The heart has four chambers: two upper chambers (right and left atria) and two lower chambers (right and left ventricles). Valves separate the chambers of the heart so blood flows in one direction throughout the body.
Blood from the body enters the right atrium and passes into the right ventricle. The right ventricle pumps blood into the lungs, where gas exchange occurs and the blood returns to the left atrium. Blood from the left atrium moves into the left ventricle and is pumped out of the heart and around the body. After delivering oxygen and nutrients to the body, blood returns to the heart through the right atrium and the cycle repeats.
For the heart to function properly, both sides of the heart must work. However, either the right or left side of the heart can fail. Left-sided heart failure occurs when the left ventricle cannot contract or relax properly. As a result, blood from the heart cannot supply the body with enough oxygen and nutrients. Right-sided heart failure can be caused by dysfunction in the left side of the heart. It can also result when the right ventricle cannot pump enough blood and the blood returning to the heart starts to back up into the veins. This can lead to congestive heart failure, which occurs when fluid collects in the body. Fluid first collects in the lower legs, causing the feet and ankles to swell. This condition can become particularly dangerous if fluid starts collecting in the lungs, where it can interfere with breathing.
Heart failure is a chronic condition for which there is no cure. However, it is possible to manage heart failure with lifestyle changes, medication and surgical procedures, if necessary. Heart failure can be prevented by controlling risk factors such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Medications and surgical procedures can be helpful, but lifestyle changes and healthy habits are crucial to prevent heart disease.
Here are some ways to prevent heart disease and decrease risk factors:
- Maintain a healthy body weight through diet and exercise
- Stay active and participate in regular physical activity such as walking, biking or working out
- Eat a healthy diet that includes fish, whole grains, fruits and vegetables
- Avoid foods high in saturated fats, cholesterol, sugar and salt
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Do not smoke
- Limit alcohol use
- Reduce stress
- Learn about your medical conditions
- Ask your doctor or cardiologist about ways to create a healthier lifestyle for yourself
- Read more about what the American Heart Association says about heart failure