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

Fluid retention: What it can mean for your heart

Excess fluid in the body can take a variety of forms, from belly boating and swollen ankles to nausea, persistent coughing, and fatigue. Even before outward signs are evident, fluid retention can signal a worsening of heart failure. Checking weight daily is the best method to detect early changes in the body’s fluid balance. An increase of 2 or more pounds in a day should be a signal to lower sodium intake, check fluid intake, and call a doctor for medication advice. Doing so can help prevent serious heart failure complications. More »

Obese teens' hearts in trouble

Using a newly developed cardiac MRI technique, Harvard researchers found that obese teens' hearts already are undergoing changes that if left untreated will lead to irreversible heart damage and ultimate heart failure. (Locked) More »

Dietary vitamin E and heart failure

A study links overconsumption of vitamin E to increased risk of heart failure. The study also found that people with high blood levels of vitamin C have a lower heart-failure risk, although it remains unclear whether increasing dietary vitamin C or taking vitamin C supplements can lower heart-failure risk. (Locked) More »

RX for heart failure: coffee

Drinking two cups of coffee a day may protect against heart failure, likely by lowering the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. (Locked) More »

Aortic aneurysm: a potential killer

Fatty deposits in the aorta, the body’s largest blood vessel, can weaken its walls, causing a bulge called an abdominal aortic aneurysm. If an aneurysm bursts, the result is usually catastrophic. Because such aneurysms rarely cause symptoms until they rupture, people at risk may benefit from an ultrasound exam of the aorta. Risk factors for this kind of aneurysm include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, emphysema, being overweight, and having a family history of aortic disease or heart disease. Medicare covers an aneurysm check for men who have smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lives and women with a family history of aneurysm. (Locked) More »

Can you die of a broken heart?

The stress of losing a loved one increases the risk of heart attack, particularly in people already at risk. The risk is 21 times higher than normal during the first 24 hours, then gradually declines. The risk of dying from a heart attack after the loss of a loved one is also 20% to 53% higher in the months following the death. In people without heart disease, grief can cause the heart to malfunction, making it a less-effective pump. This condition, known as stress cardiomyopathy, is generally reversible. (Locked) More »

ACE inhibitors after bypass surgery

Blood vessel–dilating angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are important to the length and quality of life in people with heart disease or hypertension. Doctors do not agree, however, on the value of these drugs in people undergoing coronary artery bypass grafting. (Locked) More »