The types and outcomes of Heart Failure are the results of many kinds of heart disease and one of the most commonly diagnosed cardiac problems.
Fortunately, researchers have made a lot of progress, and we now know that with aggressive therapy both the symptoms and the risk of dying can be significantly reduced.
And yet, studies continue to show that many doctors aren’t keeping up with the most up-to-date treatments. So, as always, it’s extremely important that you educate yourself…
The earliest symptoms of Heart Failure are:
- shortness of breath
- fatigue and/or
- swelling of the legs
Heart Failure requires a rapid diagnosis. To increase the chances of stopping or reversing its progression, three things should be determined quickly:
1. Do You Have Heart Failure?
By taking a complete medical history and performing a thorough physical exam, most physicians can get a good idea if the patient is in heart failure.
A prompt diagnosis can be made by performing an echocardiogram – a non-invasive method of creating an “image” of the beating heart.
2. What Type of Heart Failure Do You Have?
There are three types of heart failure:
A. Dilated Cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease) occurs when an underlying cardiac disease produces a significant weakening of the heart muscle.
- The weakened muscle stretches, causing the left ventricle of the heart (one of the “pumping chambers”) to stretch. Because of that, less of the blood in the left ventricle is ejected with each heartbeat.
- Eventually, the body’s organs stop getting the amount of blood they need, and they start to fail.
- In addition, pressures inside the heart increase, fluid backs up in the lungs, causing Congestive Heart Failure.
- Several erratic heart rhythms, including some life-threatening ones, are common in patients with Dilated Cardiomyopathy.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy tends to worsen over time – especially if aggressive therapy is not given.
B. Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is usually a genetic condition and often runs in families. It can also be produced by Aortic Stenosis or high blood pressure, both of which can be treated.
- It appears as a thickening of the heart muscle, causing “stiff” ventricles.
- The stiffness weakens the filling of the heart and can lead to episodes of extreme shortness of breath.
- In addition, the thickening of the heart muscle can cause an obstruction in the left ventricle. Some patients with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy have an increased risk of sudden death.
C. Diastolic Dysfunction
The cardiac changes seen with Diastolic Dysfunction are more subtle during an echocardiogram, but a well-trained physician will be looking for it.
- Diastolic Dysfunction is also caused by a “stiffening” of the heart muscle, preventing adequate blood flow. However, it is not a genetic disorder.
- It is present more often in older people, especially women and in people with high blood pressure.
- It is usually recognized by sudden episodes of severe shortness of breath due to lung congestion.
Patients with Diastolic Dysfunction often have a significant history of high blood pressure, and they usually improve once their blood pressure is aggressively controlled
The Underlying Cause of Heart Failure
Once heart failure is confirmed, it is crucial to find the underlying cause, especially in the case of Dilated Cardiomyopathy which is almost always caused by some other condition.
- By identifying and aggressively treating the underlying cause, the progression of heart failure might be stopped or slowed.
Common disorders that lead to dilated cardiomyopathy include:
While the echocardiogram will show if Heart Valve Disease is present, heart catheterization might be necessary to look for Coronary Artery Disease.
Heart failure can produce some very disturbing symptoms, and can definitely disrupt your life. Fortunately, we’ve made several important gains in the last couple of decades in identifying and treating the types and outcomes of Congestive Heart Failure.
By paying close attention to your symptoms and working carefully with a skilled physician, the odds are good that you’ll enjoy many happy and productive years.