Heart Failure is a chronic, progressive condition where the heart's ability to pump blood has become impaired; either while the heart muscle is squeezing, relaxing, or both. The heart's job is to pump the right amount of blood to all parts of the body; during activities, during an illness, or simply resting. With heart failure, the body's need for oxygen-rich blood is not fully met. The heart keeps working, but it is working less efficiently. The body makes up for (or compensates) for this impairment by sending signals to the heart to beat faster and harder. Because of the extra work placed upon the heart, the heart muscle eventually becomes weakened.
Causes of heart failure: coronary artery disease (narrowed arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle); heart attacks which scar heart tissue; high blood pressure; heart valve disease; disease of the cardiac muscle; heart defects at birth; and infections of the heart.
What happens in heart failure? When the heart doesn't pump as efficiently as it should, the blood flow being pumped from the heart slows down and less blood is pumped by the heart. The blood returning to the heart backs up, forcing fluid from the blood vessels into tissues of the lungs, abdomen, legs, and feet. This swelling is called "edema".
Common signs of heart failure: shortness of breath, caused by extra fluid in the lungs; not feeling hungry (no appetite) or feeling full quickly, due to the buildup of fluid around your tummy; leg, ankle, and feet swelling (pushing in with your thumb causes a "dent"); weight gain; feeling tired and weak.
What you can do: Many people with heart failure can lead lives that are full of enjoyment and can experience a high level of quality. This may mean taking frequent breaks throughout the day or taking naps. What every person with heart failure must do is become active in SELF-CARE. This means that you take it upon yourself to manage your life (with support from your health care team, caregivers, family, and friends) by focusing on all of these important self-care behaviors: following all instructions from the doctors, nurses, and entire health care team, as these individuals are specially trained in caring for heart failure; taking all medications as directed (let your health care team know if you are having trouble getting or taking your medications!); maintaining a low-sodium diet (2000 mg/day); weighing daily (to see if you are gaining weight and catching it early!); and staying active.