The passing of 39 year old Nelsan Ellis and 53 year old George Michael this year to reportedly “heart failure” brings to sad light a condition not commonly discussed. Here are your questions answered:
What is heart failure?
Heart failure, also known as “congestive heart failure, is when the heart fails to pump properly. The heart’s main job is to pump oxygenated blood it receives from the lungs to the rest of the body with a force strong enough to circulate the oxygenated blood. When it receives the deoxygenated blood after circulation, it then pumps this into the lungs to become oxygenated again. When the heart does not sustain an adequate force of pump, its state of weakness is called “failure”.
Courtesy of answersingenesis.org
There are different types of heart failure depending on the part of the heart that is affected (right vs. left) and the function affected (filling vs. pumping). The heart will try to compensate by increasing size and its muscle mass. Symptoms will be discussed below.
What causes heart failure?
Many things can cause the heart to weaken. These include:
Prior heart attack
Coronary artery disease
High blood pressure
Drug use, including stimulants
NSAIDS, long term anti inflammatory use
Heart valve disease
Congenital heart defects
Abnormal heart rhythms
Liver and Kidney disease
Chronic diseases such as hypothyroid and hyperthyroid, diabetes, HIV, hemachromatosis
And the list goes on…..
What are signs of heart failure?
When the heart does not pump properly, fluid can back up. This can manifest as:
Shortness of breath
Edema, leg swelling
Fluid in the lungs, abdomen and other tissues
Moreover, since oxygenated blood is not being circulated well, symptoms can also include:
Abnormal heart beat
Dyspnea on exertion, difficulty breathing with activity
to name a few…..
Is heart failure treatable?
Yes. If caught early, heart failure can be treated. Some of the medications used include:
Diuretics – to reduce the fluid and workload on the heart
ACE inhibitors – a class of medication that reduces blood pressure and relaxes blood vessels to improve flow
Beta Blockers – a class of medication that lowers the heart rate, allowing the heart more time to fill and decrease work load
and others that can improve contractility of the heart and normalize heart rhythms.
If heart failure persists, sometimes surgery is indicated. For example, if an abnormal valve is the cause of the heart failure, this may be replaced. If its a clogged artery, this would be addressed.
If heart failure becomes more severe, some patients may be candidates for heart pumps and even transplants.
How can one prevent heart failure?
Improving the function of the heart involves multiple good healthy practices, such as not smoking, drinking, using recreational drugs, maintaining a normal blood pressure, avoiding diabetes and high cholesterol, keeping active, and eating a balanced diet.