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What happens in the body when a person develops heart failure?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner
When the blood flow to organs such as the kidneys is inadequate because of heart failure, the kidneys send out chemical signals to try and increase blood pressure and blood volume.  These chemical signals cause the body to hold onto salt and water and raise the blood pressure.  This results in fluid retention and in greater pressure in the main artery (aorta) of the body. The already weakened heart has to pump against this greater pressure and it also has to handle the increased blood volume.  The weakened heart cannot handle this extra work and blood backs up into the lungs, seeps into the lung spaces and the person feels short of breath.  The “fight or flight” response is also activated in heart failure which results in a faster heart rate.  The faster heart rate helps the heart compensate for its’ weakened state, but eventually wears the heart muscle out.
When your body doesn't get enough oxygen-rich blood, stress hormones and nerve signals tell the body arteries to tighten. Tight arteries make it harder for your heart to pump. Stress hormones also keep salt and water from going out in your urine. This means fluid can build up in the tight blood vessels, making even more work for the heart. Extra salt and water in the body will cause thirst, but drinking too much fluid will make things worse. Medicines to relax tight arteries (and remove any extra fluid) will make it easier for your heart to fill and pump out the blood. Most heart failure patients need to eat less salt to avoid fluid buildup, reduce swelling and breathe easier.

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