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

Different types of echocardiography

Echocardiograms use high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to create images of the heart. There are several variations of this common test, including three-dimensional echocardiograms and color Doppler echocardiograms. (Locked) More »

New hope for an unusual form of heart failure

Long summary: Up to 15% of people with a stiff, thickened heart (known as heart failure with preserved ejection fraction) may have cardiac amyloidosis. Advances in cardiac imaging have improved the ability to diagnose the condition, which is caused by clumps of an abnormal protein (amyloid) deposited in heart tissue. Most cases are known as ATTR amyloidosis, which has an inherited form and a non-inherited form. Tafamidis (Vyndaqel), the first drug to treat ATTR cardiac amyloidosis, was approved by the FDA last year. (Locked) More »

Heart failure: Reduced vs. preserved pumping

In about half of all cases of heart failure, the heart’s muscles are thin and weak, so the heart can’t pump very well. In the other cases, the muscles are thick and stiff, which prevents the heart from relaxing normally to fill with blood. (Locked) More »

Pacemaker

A pacemaker is an implanted device that regulates your heartbeat electronically. It monitors your heart's rhythm and, when necessary, it generates a painless electric impulse that triggers a heartbeat. Your pacemaker is programmed to meet the needs of your heart. Early pacemakers were implanted to treat bradycardia, an abnormally slow heartbeat. Now pacemakers can be programmed to treat a variety of heart problems, including heart failure. The electronic control center of your pacemaker — the part that is programmed by your doctor — is called the pulse generator. The pulse generator is a unit encased in titanium that usually is placed under the skin below your collarbone. In most cases, the unit is small, often weighing less than 30 grams (about 1 ounce). A lithium iodide battery inside the generator lasts 5 to 12 years, with an average of 7 to 8 years. Other sophisticated electronic components are responsible for: (Locked) More »

Red meat, TMAO, and your heart

Researchers are finding that a substance called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), produced when the body digests red meat, is linked to health ills such as cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. Experts say people with high levels of TMAO in their blood may have double the risk of cardiovascular disease, compared with people who have lower levels. (Locked) More »

Cardiovascular disease and heart disease: What's the difference?

Cardiovascular disease and heart disease often are used interchangeably although cardiovascular disease includes heart and blood vessel disease while heart disease is limited to conditions affecting the heart. Knowing how the two terms overlap can help people better understand why common prevention methods work so well. (Locked) More »