Contrary to popular belief, heart failure does not mean the heart has stopped beating. It is a condition that has weakened the heart, preventing its chambers from pumping enough blood, oxygen and nutrients through the body. The heart either lacks the pumping force (systolic) to distribute blood as it should, or is unable to fill (diastolic) with enough blood. A lack of blood to the body causes a buildup of toxins and fluid, which can deposit in the lungs and other parts of the body.
5.1 million people have heart failure in the U.S, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The majority of them don’t even know it. Symptoms like shortness of breath or extreme fatigue are usually dismissed as just a sign of getting older. Heart failure has no age or gender bias. Children and younger adults also develop it. Risk factors for heart failure include high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, severe viral/bacterial infection and diabetes.
There are two types of heart failure:
- Systolic heart failure – This is when the heart muscle is unable to contract effectively, pumping less oxygen-rich blood through the body.
- Diastolic heart failure – This is when a heart contracts normally, but the ventricles do not expand (relax) as they should when they fill with blood.
7 Common Heart Failure Myths
Heart failure is a very misunderstood subject. It does not have to be a death sentence. It is manageable. In worst cases, it requires a heart transplant. Most of the time, medications and modified lifestyles can control this condition. Here are some myths you may have heard:
- Heart failure is untreatable – There are treatments and medications that can reduce symptoms and delay its progress. Your doctor can devise a treatment plan.
- People with heart failure should never exercise – Exercise helps strengthen the heart and improves circulation. Aggressive exercise should be avoided. Cardiac rehab programs teach you how to exercise safely.
- Heart failure kills – Heart failure can shorten your life. It is not always a death sentence. It is treatable under a doctor’s watchful care.
- Congestive heart failure is a death sentence – Congestive heart failure is a fluid build-up on the lungs. Fluid can be removed and future build-up managed with proper medication, exercise and dietary changes.
- Heart failure means you must halt activities you enjoy – While it is true lifestyle modification and medication are the rule, a proper treatment regimen makes heart failure manageable so you can enjoy a good quality of life.
- Heart failure has no symptoms – Quite often you will experience swelling in your ankles, feet, legs or abdomen. It also causes unexplained weight gain, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, lung congestion, coughing, wheezing, rapid heartbeat, chest discomfort and extreme fatigue.
- Symptoms of heart failure are no big deal – If you suffer any symptoms of heart failure, you should call your doctor immediately. The sooner heart failure is treated, the better your outcome and less damage to your heart.
When to Call 911
Heart failure should not be ignored. You should seek emergency treatment if you suffer any of these symptoms:
- Loss of consciousness
- Rapid heartbeat that exceeds 120 to 150 beats per minute
- Sudden paralysis or weakness in the arms or legs
- Severe chest pain or discomfort with shortness of breath, nausea or sweating
- A sudden, severe headache