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

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 »

Avoiding afib hospitalizations

Atrial fibrillation (afib) is an irregular, quivering heartbeat that is associated with older age. Hospitalizations from afib are expected to increase as the baby boomer population ages. Part of the increase in admissions reflects the fact that people with afib often have other chronic conditions. However, many people are admitted to the hospital with afib as the only complaint. For most of those people, if afib is treated properly, it doesn’t require a lot of hospitalization.  (Locked) More »

What's new with the LVAD?

A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) is a battery-driven pump implanted in the chest to support the pumping action of the heart’s ventricles. The rapidly evolving device has become a valuable asset in treating people severely ill with heart failure. Within the next few years, LVAD technology may advance to the point where the devices are a viable long-term alternative to heart transplantation.  (Locked) More »

Digoxin: Old friend or old foe?

Digoxin is among the oldest cardiac drugs still in use, but its history has been marked by controversy. The higher doses needed to achieve the desired therapeutic effect could escalate to toxicity and cause sudden death. However, better understanding of how the drug works has led to a potential new role for digoxin in improving quality of life and reducing hospital stays for people with advanced heart failure. (Locked) More »

From hot dogs to heart failure

Men who eat processed red meats such as sausages and cold cuts may raise their risk of heart failure. These foods may be especially detrimental because of their high levels of sodium, nitrates, and other additives.  (Locked) More »

Should an abnormal electrocardiogram be a cause for worry?

Left and right bundle branch blocks are abnormalities of the heart’s electrical conduction system that show up on an electrocardiogram. Right bundle branch block is generally harmless. Left bundle branch block may stem from an underlying condition or be associated with advancing age. In most cases, the problem does not require special treatment but may require further evaluation.  .  (Locked) More »

Heart failure with 'preserved ejection fraction': What does it mean?

Shortness of breath, lung congestion, and swelling in the lower body are the telltale signs of a weakened heart. Insights into the structural and biochemical abnormalities that progressively impair heart function lend new complexity to the diagnosis and treatment of heart failure when ejection fraction appears normal.  (Locked) More »