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Heart failure causes, symptoms and treatment

What is heart failure?

Heart failure means your heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood to meet the needs of your body.

What causes heart failure?

Heart failure can be caused by:

  • Heart defects present at birth
  • Coronary artery disease or clogged arteries
  • High blood pressure
  • Defects or damage of the heart valves
  • Heart attacks
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Damage to the heart muscle due to infections or toxins such as alcohol

What are signs of heart failure?

Call your doctor or have a checkup if you have any of these symptoms for more than a week:

  • Shortness of breath that makes it difficult to talk or finish an activity
  • Unusual or excessive fatigue, weakness or faintness
  • Pulse feels fast or irregular, or sensation of feeling the heart beat
  • Waking in the night coughing, short of breath or gasping for air
  • Sudden or unexpected weight gain
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Swollen feet, ankles, fingers, legs, or abdomen
  • Need to urinate frequently at night
  • Loss of appetite

At first, symptoms of heart failure may only occur when you are very active. Over time, you may notice breathing problems and other symptoms even when you are resting. Symptoms may begin suddenly after a heart attack or other heart problem.

What do I need to do if I have heart failure?

If your doctor has diagnosed you with heart failure, become well-informed about the condition and its treatment. Staff at Via Christi Heart Failure Disease Management program will work with you to help you:

  • Recognize your symptoms
  • Learn to provide self-care
  • Know when outside medical attention is needed

Your healthcare provider or cardiologist can refer you, or you may call 316-268-5591 for an appointment.

What can I do for heart failure?

There is no cure for heart failure but it can be treated and managed. Follow these rules.

  • Take your medications.
  • Eat a low-salt, heart-healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly. A recent study found that exercise can slow muscle wasting, boost strength and reduce inflammation caused by aging and heart failure.
  • Change your lifestyle
    • Quit smoking
    • Limit or avoid alcohol
    • Weigh yourself daily
    • Keep track of your symptoms
    • Avoid stress

What are the differences among heart failure, heart disease and irregularities?

Heart failure is the inability of the heart to pump blood to meet the needs of the body. It may be caused by heart disease or other factors. The condition is diagnosed with echocardiography and blood tests. Treatment commonly consists of lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, exercise, lowered salt intake and medications.

Heart disease (cardiovascular disease) includes but is not limited to:

  • Coronary heart (or coronary artery) disease
  • Cardiomyopathy – diseases of cardiac muscle
  • Hypertensive heart disease – diseases of the heart secondary to high blood pressure
  • Cor pulmonale – a failure of the right side of the heart
  • Cardiac dysrhythmias - abnormalities of heart rhythm
  • Inflammatory heart disease
    • Endocarditis – inflammation of the inner layer of the heart, most commonly heart valves
    • Inflammatory cardiomegaly – enlargement of the heart
    • Myocarditis – inflammation of the muscular part of the heart
  • Valvular heart disease
  • Stroke and cerebrovascular disease
  • Peripheral arterial disease

Cardiac dysrhythmia (also known as arrhythmia and irregular heartbeat) is a group of conditions in which there is abnormal electrical activity in the heart. The heartbeat may be too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia), and may be regular or irregular.

What can Via Christi Heart Failure Disease Management program do?

Improve patients’ overall quality of life by helping them manage their disease by:

  • Teaching them the signs and symptoms
  • Empowering them to take appropriate action
  • Maximizing their medical and device treatment

Which patients benefit most from the program?

  • Newly diagnosed with heart failure in the past six months
  • Non-adherent with medical recommendations due to low health literacy or other barriers
  • Exhibiting advanced heart failure symptoms.

What kind of results has the program had? 

Hospital readmissions for patients at high-risk for readmittance decreased by 40 percent in 2011. Among patients who had multiple hospitalizations, the decrease was 75 percent.