What is Heart Failure?
Every year, an estimated 30,000 Australians are diagnosed with chronic heart failure.
Heart failure is a condition that occurs when the heart muscle has become too weak to pump blood through the body as effectively as normal or when the heart is unable to relax and fill under normal pressure. This may cause blood to ‘dam up’ behind the heart and fluid to collect in the lungs and other body tissues (oedema), and also may result in inadequate delivery of blood carrying oxygen and nutrients to the body.
Common symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, swelling of the legs and ankles or belly, weight gain, tiredness, loss of appetite and a reduction in ability to exercise.
Causes of Heart Failure
There are many different causes of heart failure but the most common include coronary artery disease, previous heart attack, long-term high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiomyopathy [disease of the heart muscle].
There are a number of tests that your doctor can do to diagnose chronic heart failure.
This test uses ultrasound waves that come from a small hand piece placed on your chest wall. This allows your heart to be directly visualized as it beats and an accurate assessment can be made on its structure and function.
An ECG is a reading of your heart’s electrical impulses taken from electrical leads placed on your chest and limbs. It may show up past or recent injury to your heart muscle and also directly determines the rhythm of your heart.
This is a special X-ray that shows whether or not your coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked. Under a local anaesthetic, a small tube (catheter) is inserted into an artery in your arm or groin and guided into the heart. Dye is injected through the catheter into the coronary arteries and X-rays are taken. The X-rays give detailed information about the condition of these arteries.
This test will show if your heart is enlarged and if there is fluid in the lungs.
There are many different types of medicines used to treat heart failure or chronic heart failure. They work in different ways to limit further injury, improve function and assist in recovery of the heart muscle. It is important that you take all the medicines prescribed by your doctor as they have been proven to reduce symptoms and improve long term prognosis.
If you think your medicine is not working, is causing you problems or you have any questions, talk to your doctor. Do not stop taking your medicines without talking to your doctor first.
Along with seeing your doctor regularly and taking your medicines as prescribed, lifestyle choices are very important in helping you manage heart failure.
Monitor and control your fluid balance
Establish a daily routine of weighing yourself so you know if fluid is building up in your body.
There are three ways that you can help to control your fluid balance:
Control your fluid intake.
Restrict your salt intake.
Take diuretic medicines as prescribed by your doctor.
Restrict your salt intake
Salt causes your body to retain fluid. Make sure you eat low salt foods and don’t add salt to your food at the table or during cooking.
Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and damages the walls of your arteries. Stopping smoking is one of the most important things that you can do to reduce your risk of further heart disease.
For more information about quitting smoking, talk to your doctor or call the Quitline on 13 QUIT
Limit your alcohol intake
Alcohol can damage your heart. Talk to your doctor about whether or not you should drink alcohol. Your doctor may ask you to stop or limit your drinking.
Don’t drink more than one to two standard drinks of alcohol a day, and have at lest 2 alcohol-free days per week. If your heart failure has been caused by alcohol, stop drinking altogether.
Chronic heart failure programs
You may be able to attend a special program to help you manage heart failure. These programs usually involve a number of health professionals, such as nurses, dietitians and exercise specialists.