Heart failure is a complex cardiovascular disorder that manifests through a range of symptoms due to the heart's inability to function optimally. Whether stemming from structural issues or functional inefficiencies, heart failure can significantly impair the heart’s capacity to circulate blood effectively. Understanding this condition is essential for both patients and carers.

Types of Heart Failure

When it comes to classifying heart failure, the medical community generally agrees on two main categories:

  1. Acute Heart Failure: This form not only encompasses newly emerging symptoms but also includes instances where previously controlled symptoms suddenly become severe. Quick medical intervention is often crucial.
  2. Chronic Heart Failure: Chronic cases are those where the healthcare provider identifies symptoms or functional heart abnormalities persisting for a significant amount of time, often months or years. Management is generally long-term and involves a range of therapies.

Signs and Symptoms to Watch For

The heart's failure to sufficiently cater to the body's circulatory needs results in a host of symptoms, each of which could vary in intensity:

  • Shortness of Breath: This primary symptom can worsen during physical activities or when lying down, often disrupting sleep.
  • Fatigue and Muscle Weakness: Limited blood flow can result in a constant feeling of tiredness and muscle cramps, affecting one's ability to perform everyday activities.
  • Fluid Retention and Swelling: Not limited to the legs and ankles, fluid retention can also cause complications in organs such as the lungs, liver, and even the gastrointestinal tract.

Factors Worsening Heart Failure Symptoms

Certain conditions and habits can intensify the symptoms of heart failure:

  • Heart-Related Issues: These include rapid or slow heartbeat, insufficient blood supply to the heart muscle, and even heart valve diseases.
  • Lifestyle Choices: Excessive intake of salt, fluids, or alcohol can negatively impact heart failure. Similarly, not adhering to prescribed medications can worsen the condition.
  • Comorbid Conditions: Kidney issues, lung blood clots, elevated blood pressure, and thyroid imbalances can all exacerbate heart failure symptoms.

Diagnostic Measures for Heart Failure

Diagnosing heart failure involves multiple steps:

  • Medical History: Includes a detailed examination of the patient's own medical records and family history of heart failure or other cardiovascular diseases.
  • Physical Examinations: Includes vital signs, reflex tests, and other basic evaluations.
  • Laboratory and Imaging Tests: These can range from blood tests to measure red and white cell counts, kidney and liver functionality, to imaging tests like chest X-rays and ECGs.
  • Advanced Heart Tests: In some cases, echocardiograms or cardiac MRIs may be advised for an in-depth view of the heart's functioning.

A Holistic Approach to Treating Heart Failure

Treatment of heart failure is tailored to the individual's needs, based on several factors such as the cause, severity, and duration of symptoms, as well as other existing health conditions:

  • Medication: This is often the first line of treatment and may involve diuretics, ACE inhibitors, and antiplatelet drugs, among others.
  • Medical Devices: Technologies like AICD or pacemakers can be life-saving for some patients.
  • Surgical Interventions: These may include coronary artery bypass grafting, angioplasty, or even heart valve surgeries and transplants for extreme cases.

Heart Failure Patients' Self-Care Guidance

  • Familiarize yourself with the symptoms caused by fluid and salt retention, such as weight gain, swelling, fatigue, discomfort when lying down, or waking up at night to catch your breath. If you experience any of these symptoms, promptly inform your doctor or nurse.
  • Weigh yourself and record your weight every morning, or at least twice a week, immediately after using the toilet upon waking up. Write down your weight before eating breakfast. Any weight gain of more than one kilogram in 1-2 days (or 2 kilograms in 3 days) indicates fluid and salt retention.
  • Limit your daily salt intake to 2-3 grams and avoid eating salty foods in general, including canned foods, pickled foods, and soy sauce. Follow the recommended water intake according to your treatment plan.
  • If you are overweight, try to lose weight if possible. Weight gain puts extra strain on the heart. If you experience loss of appetite, sickness, vomiting, stomach cramps, weight loss of more than 5 kilograms in 6 months, or if your BMI is less than 22 kg/m2, eat small portions of easily digestible food at regular intervals to prevent malnutrition.
  • Avoid smoking tobacco and limit alcohol consumption to no more than 2 drinks per day, as alcohol negatively affects the heart.
  • Maintain a suitable exercise routine. Start with short walks on a flat surface, gradually increasing the duration from 2-5 minutes per day to 5-10 minutes per day. Joining an exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation program is also an option. However, stop immediately if you experience fatigue, exhaustion, or discomfort during exercise.
  • Engage in sexual activity only if you can walk up a flight of stairs (8-10 steps) without gasping for breath or needing to rest. Symptoms of heart failure may worsen during sex.
  • Take medications as prescribed. Consult your doctor if any unusual symptoms occur, as they may be side effects of the medication. Before purchasing any additional medication from the pharmacy, consult your doctor to ensure it doesn't have adverse effects on your heart and kidneys or interact with any other medications you are currently taking.
  • Lower stress levels with relaxing activities such as light exercise or meditation.
  • Avoid walking long distances, especially if you need to sit for long periods. Heart failure patients should not walk alone and should be accompanied by a friend or relative. Additionally, avoid flying if your symptoms worsen.
  • Get a yearly flu vaccination, if possible.
  • Schedule regular health check-ups and follow your doctor's appointments as scheduled.