Patel: When your heart begins to failWritten by Guest Author | | GuestAuthor@toledofreepress.com
Congestive heart failure is a serious condition that affects millions of Americans and their families. Yet, many don’t fully understand this deadly disease where the heart is unable to effectively pump blood to meet the body’s demands.
People with congestive heart failure may find it difficult to do everyday activities like walking or carrying groceries because the body’s cells are not getting the oxygen and nutrient-rich blood they need. They may have fatigue, shortness of breath, an irregular heartbeat, swelling in their legs, ankles and feet, weight gain, and chest pain. When a person has a heart that is weak (your doctor may call this systolic heart failure) or stiff (referred to as diastolic heart failure), a portion of the blood that was destined for the body and vital organs may back up into the lungs and cause trouble breathing.
To fully understand congestive heart failure, it’s helpful to know how the heart works:
- The heart is a muscular pump with built-in valves to keep blood moving in a one-way circuit.
- The heart’s main job is to take blood from the lungs that is bathed in the oxygen we breathe in and distribute it to the body with each beat.
- The heart needs its own constant supply of blood to work properly. This blood is supplied by the coronary arteries.
There are a number of causes of congestive heart failure. They include:
- Coronary artery disease: If one or more of the arteries that supply blood to the heart becomes partially or completely blocked, the heart muscle itself can weaken, causing congestive heart failure.
- High blood pressure: Elevated blood pressure makes the heart work harder. The heart is a muscle so the harder it has to work, the thicker and stiffer it becomes.
- Faulty heart valves: Leaky or tight heart valves can make the heart work harder to keep blood flowing properly through the heart.
Treatment of congestive heart failure is tailored to each patient’s individual situation.
Surgery to repair or replace a defective valve or clear a blocked artery can improve or even cure heart failure in some patients.
Others may need a combination of medications to manage high blood pressure, lower cholesterol, improve blood flow, reduce heart rate and/or increase the frequency of urination.
Lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, exercising and quitting smoking can help lessen the symptoms of congestive heart failure and improve quality of life.
For patients with advanced and end-stage congestive heart failure, treatment options include:
- Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators implanted in the chest to monitor a patient’s heart rhythm and deliver an electric shock to restore a normal rhythm when the heart begins to beat dangerously fast or stops.
- Biventricular pacemakers to send electrical impulses to the lower chambers of the heart so they pump more efficiently.
- Ventricular assist devices implanted into the abdomen or chest to help the heart pump blood to the rest of the body.
- Heart transplantation.
Patients who are struggling to manage the symptoms of heart failure can seek assistance through programs such as the Heart Failure Clinic at ProMedica.
Heart Failure Clinics are located at ProMedica St. Luke’s Hospital and ProMedica Toledo Hospital. For more information, call (419) 291-7577, (419) 897-5437 or visit www.promedica.org/heartfailureclinic.
Dr. Ronak Patel is a physician with ProMedica Physicians Cardiology. For more information, call (419) 842-3000 or visit www.promedica.org/heart.