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Congestive Heart Failure

By 09 August 2017
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The purpose of the heart is to pump blood to the body in order to nourish it. Heart-failure doesn't mean that the heart has stopped working, but that it just isn't able to pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. This may happen when the heart muscle itself is weaker than normal or when there is a defect in the heart that prevents blood from getting out into the circulation. When the heart does not circulate blood normally, the kidneys receive less blood and filter less fluid out of the circulation into the urine. The extra fluid in the circulation builds up in the lungs, the liver, around the eyes, and sometimes in the legs. This is called fluid "congestion" and for this reason doctors call this "congestive heart failure".

Causes

Heart failure often develops after other conditions have damaged or weakened your heart. However, the heart doesn't need to be weakened to cause heart failure. It can also occur if the heart becomes too stiff.

Coronary artery disease and heart attack.

Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease and the most common cause of heart failure. Over time, arteries that supply blood to your heart muscle narrow from a buildup of fatty deposits — a process called atherosclerosis. The buildup of plaques can cause reduced blood flow to your heart.

A heart attack occurs if plaques formed by the fatty deposits in your arteries rupture. This causes a blood clot to form, which may block blood flow to an area of the heart muscle, weakening the heart's pumping ability and often leaving permanent damage. If the damage is significant, it can lead to a weakened heart muscle.

High blood pressure (hypertension).

Blood pressure is the force of blood pumped by your heart through your arteries. If your blood pressure is high, your heart has to work harder than it should to circulate blood throughout your body.

Over time, the heart muscle may become thicker to compensate for the extra work it must perform. Eventually, your heart muscle may become either too stiff or too weak to effectively pump blood.

Faulty heart valves.

The valves of your heart keep blood flowing in the proper direction through the heart. A damaged valve due to a heart defect, coronary artery disease or heart infection — forces your heart to work harder to keep blood flowing as it should.

Over time, this extra work can weaken your heart. Faulty heart valves, however, can be fixed or replaced if found in time.

Damage to the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy).

Heart muscle damage (cardiomyopathy) can have many causes, including several diseases, infections, alcohol abuse and the toxic effect of drugs, such as cocaine or some drugs used for chemotherapy.

Genetic factors play an important role in several types of cardiomyopathy, such as dilated cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, left ventricular non-compaction and restrictive cardiomyopathy.

Myocarditis.

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle. It is most commonly caused by a virus and can lead to left-sided heart failure.

Heart defects you're born with (congenital heart defects).

If your heart and its chambers or valves haven't formed correctly, the healthy parts of your heart have to work harder to pump blood through your heart, which, in turn, may lead to heart failure.

Abnormal heart rhythms (heart arrhythmias).

Abnormal heart rhythms may cause your heart to beat too fast, which creates extra work for your heart. Over time, your heart may weaken, leading to heart failure. A slow heartbeat may prevent your heart from getting enough blood out to the body and may also lead to heart failure.

Other diseases.

Chronic diseases — such as diabetes, HIV, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or a buildup of iron (hemochromatosis) or protein (amyloidosis) —also may contribute to heart failure.

Causes of acute heart failure include viruses that attack the heart muscle, severe infections, allergic reactions, blood clots in the lungs, the use of certain medications or any illness that affects the whole body.

Risk Factors

  • Age
  • Having another heart condition before (high BP, Coronary Heart disease, previous heart attack)

Signs and Symptoms

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Fast breathing
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Poor weight gain
  • Low blood pressure
  • Swelling feet, legs or around the eyes
  • Poor feeding or growth

Diagnosis

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Chest x-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Blood tests

Treatment

  • Diuretics (“water pills”) e.g. flurosemide
  • Heart catheterization

Prevention/Management

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet (low salt diet)
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding alcohol intake
  • Avoiding/limiting caffeine
  • Being physically active
  • Managing stress
  • Monitoring blood pressure
  • Getting adequate rest
  • Quitting smoking

Take care of your heart today

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