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

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 »

Bypass plus angioplasty: The best of both worlds?

Hybrid heart surgery combines two procedures that restore blood flow to blocked arteries in the heart. One is coronary bypass grafting (CABG), which transplants blood vessels from elsewhere in the body to bypass the blocked artery. The other is angioplasty, which uses a tiny balloon to open the blockages, plus a tiny mesh tube (stent) to keep the artery open. The hybrid approach takes advantage of the best aspects of each technique and often eliminates the need for a heart-lung machine. (Locked) More »

The future of heart rhythm monitoring?

Small skin patches may offer a more convenient way to diagnose heart rhythm problems than the portable electrocardiogram (ECG) devices known as Holter monitors. Unlike the bulky Holter monitors, the Band-aid–sized patches, which are placed on the chest, have no wires, are waterproof, and can record data continuously for up to two weeks. For now, their biggest role is for people with frequent palpitations, which make people feel as though their heart is pounding, racing, or fluttering. Often, the patch reveals a normal heart rhythm, which lets the person avoid more testing that can be stressful and costly. (Locked) More »

Ask the doctor: Pacemakers and MRI scans

Some diagnostic imaging centers offer MRI scans to people with pacemakers. An expert must evaluate the situation and make the decision whether it is safe. Special MRI-safe pacemakers are now available. (Locked) More »

Avoiding fluid overload if you have heart failure

Most people with heart failure need to limit the amount of fluid they drink to eight cups a day. That includes foods and beverages that are liquid at room temperature, including milkshakes, smoothies, ice cream, gelatin, soup, and ice cubes. In addition, a cup of certain fruits and vegetables that contain lots of water (such as watermelon and cucumber) counts as a half-cup of fluid. Tips to help address a common complaint from fluid restriction (thirst and a dry mouth) include gargling with cold mouthwash and sucking on hard candies or mints.  (Locked) More »

Cardiomyopathy: Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Any heart disease in which the heart muscle (myocardium) weakens can be known as cardiomyopathy. This broad term covers many conditions, all of which result in injury to the heart muscle and impaired heart function. Cardiomyopathy often leads to heart failure. In some forms of cardiomyopathy, the weakened heart muscle becomes thinned; in other forms it becomes abnormally thickened. In both cases, the ventricles of the heart have trouble pumping blood as effectively as they should. Blood can stagnate in the heart, making it more likely to form clots. If a clot breaks free and enters the circulation, it can cause a stroke if it lodges in an artery that nourishes the brain, or a pulmonary embolism if it lodges in an artery to the lungs. The beleaguered heart muscle can also become prone to potentially dangerous abnormal heart rhythms. More »