Heart Failure

Heart failure occurs when disease, injury, or years of wear and tear interfere with the heart's ability to pump as effectively and efficiently as it should. When that happens, a cascade of physiological changes is set in motion. The end result is that many body parts don't get the blood flow that they need.

Although the term "heart failure" conjures up the catastrophe of a suddenly lifeless heart, the condition is better described as a gradual decline in the heart's ability to pump.

Think if it this way: Imagine your heart as the central warehouse of a nationwide delivery system. The trucking fleet is your blood, ferrying vital supplies (oxygen and nutrients) to all corners of your body and picking up waste. Your arteries and veins are superhighways and secondary roads connecting cities and towns (cells and tissues) along the way. When the system is operating at prime efficiency, a steady stream of cargo-laden vehicles leaves the central hub at a rapid clip every day. Once their freight is delivered, they pick up the next load and return to the central warehouse.

If the warehouse falters, freight-filled trucks jam the cargo bays. Others are stranded in remote locations, unable to make deliveries or pick-ups. Customers along the routes struggle to survive without fresh supplies.

Once a slow but sure death sentence, heart failure for many people is now a chronic condition that can be coped with thanks to advances in medications, the development of heart-assisting devices, and the possibility of heart transplants.

Heart Failure Articles

When the heart pumps normally but struggles

Some people with heart failure have a “preserved ejection fraction.” The heart contracts normally but the lower chambers are stiff and thickened. Because they don’t relax and refill normally, they can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. (Locked) More »

Monitoring your heart rhythm with a smartphone: A good call?

Smartphone apps that detect possible atrial fibrillation (afib) may one day help improve screening for this common heart rhythm disorder. One app currently under development relies on the phone’s camera and flash to measure color changes in a person’s finger to detect a pulse and any irregularities. Another, which is placed on a user’s chest, relies on the phone’s internal sensors that track speed, movement, and orientation.  (Locked) More »

What is a bubble study?

During a bubble study, saline filled with tiny bubbles is injected into an arm vein during a heart ultrasound. The test can reveal potential blood flow issues inside the heart caused by a tiny opening between the heart’s upper chambers.  (Locked) More »

5 warning signs of early heart failure

Heart failure occurs when something damages the heart muscle or reduces the heart’s ability to pump effectively. Therefore, the body’s demands for oxygen-rich blood go unmet. The earliest indicators of heart failure can easily be confused with natural aging. However, a collection of symptoms including fatigue, breathlessness, chest congestion, and ankle swelling should be heeded as a warning to seek medical advice. (Locked) More »

While waiting for your flight, learn how to save a life

Six major airport hubs in the United States have installed training kiosks that teach people how to perform hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in just five minutes. The training features a “how-to” video plus a practice session on a rubber torso.  More »

Managing a leaky mitral valve

The heart’s mitral valve controls blood flow between the upper and lower left side of the heart. If the valve is misshapen or misaligned, it can’t close tightly or open fully, causing blood to flow backward with each contraction. Known as mitral valve regurgitation, this condition may cause breathlessness and fatigue, or no symptoms at all. Severe mitral regurgitation can lead to complications such as atrial fibrillation or heart failure. As a result, people with severe regurgitation should usually have the valve repaired, even if they don’t have symptoms. (Locked) More »