What is heart failure?

What is heart failure?

The term “heart failure” sounds terrifying. While it is a serious condition, it does not mean the heart has stopped beating. Rather, it means the heart does not pump as well as it should.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 6.2 million American adults have heart failure with more than a half million new cases reported each year. The condition is the leading cause of hospitalization in people over age 65.

Heart failure is a long-term condition that can get worse with time, as the heart muscle pumps less blood to the organs. The severity of heart failure can range from no limitations on physical activity to intense restrictions.

Symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, trouble breathing when lying down, and weight gain with swelling in the ankles, legs, or stomach. Other symptoms include feeling tired or weak, dizziness, confusion, and rapid or irregular heartbeats. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and may come and go.

Heart failure can be caused by many medical conditions that damage the heart muscle. These include the following:

  • Coronary artery disease (“hardening of the arteries”)
  • Heart attack
  • Cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle)
  • High blood pressure
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes

Unhealthy behaviors can also increase the risk for heart failure. These include smoking, eating foods high in fat, cholesterol, and sodium, lack of exercise, and excessive alcohol intake.

Heart failure has no cure. However, many people with heart failure lead a full, enjoyable life without significant limitations when the condition is managed with medications and healthy lifestyle changes, according to the American Heart Association.

Heart failure is best provided by a multidisciplinary team. The cardiology team at Horizon Health consists of Dr. Ron Oren, cardiologist who is dual board certified in Cardiovascular Diseases and Advanced Heart Failure; Melissa Thomas, nurse practitioner; Andrea Nead, RN; and Jessica Sinclair, RN.