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Heart Failure - Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

Heart failure is the inability of the heart to pump a sufficient amount of blood throughout the entire body. In a heart failure with a chronic and progressive evolution, blood flows less and less and tends to stagnate. Heart failure can affect a portion of the heart or the entire organ, as in left or right heart failure or congestive heart failure.

Depending on the affected part, the symptoms vary slightly, but the failure will ultimately evolve towards global failure. This disease appears primarily in older people with heart disease, often following a myocardial infarction, a heart valve disease, an irregular heartbeat, or high blood pressure. Certain chronic respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic or fibrotic lung disease, can also be causes.

Symptoms of Heart Failure

In heart failure, symptoms appear gradually. In heart failure affecting only the left part of the heart, the main symptom is difficulty breathing — initially, after intense efforts and, ultimately, even at rest, especially when lying down. Weight gain with legs swollen by edema will increase progressively without proper treatment. Fatigue is also a common sign.

As for heart failure of the right side, the signs are tachycardia, edema of the legs, an enlarged liver, and sometimes pain. Right heart failure ultimately progresses to congestive heart failure, and therefore, signs of left heart failure also eventually appear.

Diagnosing Heart Failure

The diagnosis of heart failure is suspected, on the one hand, after the examination of various pathologies encountered by the patient during his life and, on the other hand, following clinical examination evoking the aforementioned symptoms. The diagnosis is confirmed through numerous exams that search for the cause of the disease: electrocardiogram, lung X-ray, biological testing, and occasionally a Doppler ultrasound of the heart.

Treatment of Heart Failure

To treat heart failure, a doctor will, first, look into to correcting predisposing or precipitating factors: the underlying disease must be managed optimally in an attempt to slow the progression of heart failure. As a second step, the doctor will proceed to treat the symptoms, often prescribing a salt-free diet associated with the prescription of ACE inhibitors or diuretics to reduce breathing difficulties or edema. Beta-blockers may also be used. Other alternative medications may play a particular role.

It is only when no treatment has worked that a heart transplant is considered. Close and regular patient education and illness monitoring are also needed to reduce the progression of the disease and prevent further complications.

Preventing Heart Failure

To avoid complications and the worsening of heart failure, certain rules of hygiene and nutrition should be adopted. If these rules are followed before the onset of the disease, they will protect the patient.

You will need to monitor your weight; follow a low-salt diet; avoid consuming more than one alcoholic drink per day; closely monitor blood pressure or diabetes; and exercise every day.

Image: © Alexander Raths - Shutterstock.com

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