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Heart Failure

What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a chronic medical condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs for oxygen and nutrients. This can occur when the heart becomes weakened or damaged, leading to a decrease in its ability to effectively circulate blood throughout the body. Heart failure is a progressive condition that can affect one or both sides of the heart.

 

There are two main types of heart failure:

 

  1. Systolic heart failure: Also known as "heart failure with reduced ejection fraction". Systolic heart failure occurs when the heart muscle becomes weakened and is unable to contract forcefully enough to pump a sufficient amount of blood out of the heart with each beat. This results in a decreased ejection fraction, which is the percentage of blood pumped out of the heart with each contraction.

  2. Diastolic heart failure: Also known as "heart failure with preserved ejection fraction". Diastolic heart failure occurs when the heart muscle becomes stiff and rigid, impairing its ability to relax and fill with blood properly during the relaxation phase of the cardiac cycle. Despite having a normal or near-normal ejection fraction, the heart is unable to fill adequately with blood, leading to decreased cardiac output.

Risk factors

Heart failure can result from various underlying conditions or factors that weaken or damage the heart muscle, including:

 

- Coronary artery disease (narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries)

- High blood pressure (hypertension)

- Previous heart attack (myocardial infarction)

- Cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle)

- Heart valve disorders (e.g., aortic stenosis, mitral regurgitation)

- Congenital heart defects

- Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms)

- Diabetes

- Obesity

- Lung diseases (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary hypertension)

- Thyroid disorders

- Alcohol or drug abuse

Symptoms

Symptoms of CHD include:

- Shortness of breath (dyspnea), especially with exertion or when lying flat

- Fatigue and weakness

- Swelling (edema) in the legs, ankles, feet, abdomen, or other parts of the body

- Persistent coughing or wheezing

- Rapid or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)

- Reduced exercise tolerance

- Sudden weight gain

- Loss of appetite or nausea

- Difficulty concentrating or confusion

Treatment options

Heart failure is a chronic condition that requires ongoing medical management, including medications, lifestyle modifications, and sometimes medical procedures or surgery. Treatment aims to relieve symptoms, improve quality of life, slow disease progression, and reduce the risk of complications. In some cases, heart failure may be reversible with appropriate treatment and lifestyle changes, while in others, it may require long-term management and monitoring to optimise outcomes.

Can exercise help?

Exercise can be an important component of managing heart failure by:

 

  1. Improves cardiovascular fitness: Regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, cycling, or swimming, strengthens the heart muscle, improves circulation, and enhances cardiovascular fitness, reducing the workload on the heart and improving its ability to pump blood effectively.

  2. Increases functional capacity: Exercise helps to improve physical fitness and functional capacity, making daily activities easier to perform and reducing symptoms of fatigue and weakness associated with heart failure.

  3. Reduces symptoms: Exercise can help to alleviate symptoms of heart failure, such as shortness of breath and fatigue, by improving cardiovascular function, increasing oxygen delivery to tissues, and enhancing muscle strength and endurance.

  4. Promotes weight management: Regular physical activity helps to control body weight and reduce excess body fat, which can reduce the strain on the heart and improve heart function in individuals with heart failure.

  5. Enhances quality of life: Exercise has been shown to improve overall well-being, increase energy levels, and promote a sense of accomplishment and empowerment, enhancing quality of life for individuals living with heart failure.

  6. Improves mental health: Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting chemicals that help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, all of which are common in individuals with heart failure.

  7. Reduces hospitalizations: Regular exercise has been associated with reduced hospitalizations and improved outcomes in individuals with heart failure, potentially reducing the need for medical interventions and healthcare costs.

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