Don’t break your heart
When we hear that someone has been diagnosed by doctors as having heart failure, it can be quite frightening - bringing up visions of the poor person's heart failing in its duty and stopping in mid stroke.

What 'Heart failure' really means is that the heart (which in effect is a mechanical pump made of muscle whose job is to pump blood through the body) is not pumping efficiently.
This can happen either because the heart muscle has become weakened, or because there is a fault in the valves that control the flow of blood through and out of the heart.

Congestion of pumps
Actually, the heart consists of TWO pumps that work in unison - a smaller right side which pumps blood to the lungs, where it acquires oxygen from the air we breathe, and a larger left side which has to push this oxygen-rich blood around the entire body. Although it is theoretically possible for only one side of the heart to develop failure, heart failure usually affects both sides of the heart.

Because such a heart is not pumping blood through the circulation with adequate force, the blood flow is sluggish and fluid tends to gradually leak out of the blood vessels into the surrounding tissues.

The ensuing congestion has given rise to the term Congestive Cardiac Failure (CCF) which implies that both sides of the heart are not working properly. When the right side of the heart fails to pump properly, blood pools in the body and causes swelling of the legs and the abdomen. In left sided failure, fluid collects in the lungs and results in breathlessness, especially if you are lying down.

Principal symptoms
Breathlessness on physical exertion is the main symptom.With worsening failure, this breathlessness comes on with milder and milder forms of exertion - until in the most severe forms of heart failure the patient is breathless even at rest. Other features of cardiac failure are swelling of the feet and abdomen, lethargy, tiredness and a constant feeling of nausea.

Heart failure usually develops as a consequence of high blood pressure - the simple explanation is that constantly having to pump blood out against a high pressure gradient wears the heart out.

Faulty heart valves are known to result in failure. Damage to the muscular walls of the heart - from blocked coronary arteries or excessive alcohol consumption - can also give rise to failure.

Despite its frightening name, heart failure usually responds well to medications and can be kept under control for many years. If untreated, however, it puts a great strain on the body which becomes gradually swollen and waterlogged.

Measures to help the failing heart

  • Reduce your weight if you are overweight - the less pounds you carry around, the less effort is required from your heart.
  • Limit your intake of fluid to less than 1.5 litres per day.
  • As far as possible, cut down your intake of salt - because salt tends to retain fluid in the body.
  • Stop smoking, because smoking narrows your arteries and reduces the blood flow in your circulation even further.

The common medications your doctor may prescribe are Diuretics (which get rid of the excess fluid in your body by making you pass it out as urine) and ACE inhibitors (which open up your blood vessels, reduce your pressure and improve the pumping action of your heart). You may also be prescribed a tablet Digoxin which regularizes and strengthens the contractions of your heart.

Back to Top  Back to Plus  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.