No, it doesn’t mean your heart has actually failed.
The term heart failure doesn’t mean the heart has stopped working. In fact, it’s a very manageable and treatable condition that more than 6 million Americans are living with.
What Does Heart Failure Do to the Body?
The heart is a pump that contracts and relaxes. A normal heart might have about four to six liters of blood pumping through it every minute, which gets dispersed to every organ in your body, says Michelle Weisfelner Bloom, MD, a cardiologist at Stony Brook University Medical Center.
Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle has become weak and can’t pump blood well enough to meet the body’s needs. Basically, it can’t keep up with its workload. “Heart failure is a condition where either your heart doesn’t pump well, or your heart doesn’t relax well,” says Dr. Bloom.
Half of heart failure patients have reduced ejection fraction, which means the heart doesn’t pump well. The other half have what’s called preserved ejection fraction, which means the pump works, but the heart has a problem relaxing.
“The ejection fraction, or what amount of blood from your heart goes to your body with each pump, is normally about 55 percent,” says Satjit Bhusri, MD, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Now when you have systolic heart failure, or weakening of that left heart pump, that number starts dropping.” Someone with heart failure may have an ejection fraction of about 25 to 35 percent.
Symptoms of Heart Failure
So when the heart is pumping and it’s pumping weak, where does the blood go? “It’s backing up. It’s backing up into the lungs so you start getting short of breath,” says Dr. Bhusri. This is called congestion.
During congestive heart failure, blood flows too slowly out of the heart, and the blood trying to return to the heart gets backed up and causes congestion. This causes blood to pool and collect around the heart and in the veins. This can lead to these heart failure symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Discomfort while lying flat and needing extra pillows
- Gasping for air in the middle of the night
- Edema, or swelling in the legs and belly
- “Pitting” in the swelling (when you press down on a swollen skin area and are left with an indentation)
Another issue patients with heart failure have is called perfusion, which can lead to different symptoms. “Perfusion is the amount of blood that’s getting to all the organs in the body,” says Dr. Bloom. “If that pump isn’t working well, then you might not be getting enough blood supply to the different organs.”
Not enough blood supply translates to not enough oxygen, and all the organs, including the brain, can be affected by poor perfusion. This may cause:
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important that you see your doctor to check for heart failure as soon as possible.
“The number one cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease, so we have to rule that out because that can be reversible, we can fix that artery and improve the heart muscle to make it stronger,” says Dr. Bhusri. “We have now devices and medicines that can actually bring you back to the same lifespan that you would have had before having heart failure.”
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The heart really is a pump, and a pump
has to contract and it has to relax.
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In a normal heart, we expect that
we get somewhere between four and
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six liters of blood every minute,
that pumps out of the heart.
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It's a lot of blood, it's a lot of
pumping, and the blood goes to every organ
00:00:26,710 --> 00:00:30,495
in your body.
Ejection fraction is what fraction, or
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what amount, of blood from your
heart goes to your body each pump?
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Normally, it's about 55%,
now when you have systolic heart failure,
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or weakening of that left heart pump,
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that number starts dropping.
Patients that have heart
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failure have something called heart
failure with reduced ejection fraction.
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And that essentially means that the heart
doesn't pump well, the pump has failed.
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The other 50% of the patients have
something called heart failure with
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preserved ejection fraction.
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Meaning the pump is just fine,
but when the heart goes to relax,
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there's a problem with the relaxing.
The heart is pumping,
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and it's pumping weak, so
where is all that blood going?
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It's backing up into the lungs, so
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you start getting short of breath.
The most common symptoms
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of heart failure are shortness of breath,
you may also have swelling in the legs,
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you may just feel very fatigued as well.
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You may feel when you're sleeping or
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laying reclined that you're
very short of breath.
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And that will prompt you to either sleep
with pillows or maybe sleep upright.
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If you experience any of these symptoms,
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the most important thing is to not ignore
them, and go to your doctor to figure out
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what's going on.
One misconception that patients
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have with heart failure is the simple
term that it's called heart failure,
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that it has failed.
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The number one cause of heart failure
always is coronary artery disease.
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So we have to rule that out
because that can be reversible.
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We can fix that, we can fix that artery,
we can reprofuse that muscle,
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make it stronger.
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And the other misconception about heart
failure is that it changes your lifespan.
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We have now devices and
medicines that can actually
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bring you back to the same
lifespan that you
00:02:13,857 --> 00:02:18,830
would have had before
having heart failure.
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Heart failure: overview. Washington, DC: U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2018. (Accessed on May 29, 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072723/)
Types of heart failure. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association, 2017. (Accessed on May 29, 2018 at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartFailure/AboutHeartFailure/Types-of-Heart-Failure_UCM_306323_Article.jsp#.WsuQk5M-fVo)
Medications Used to Treat Heart Failure. American Heart Association. (Accessed on May 29, 2018 at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartFailure/PreventionTreatmentofHeartFailure/Medications-for-Heart-Failure_UCM_306342_Article.jsp#.Wr0VtpPwaL4)
What is Heart Failure? American Heart Association. (Accessed on May 29, 2018 at
Lifestyle Changes for Heart Failure. American Heart Association. (Accessed on May 29, 2018 at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartFailure/TreatmentOptionsForHeartFailure/Lifestyle-Changes-for-Heart-Failure_UCM_306341_Article.jsp#.Wr0eE5PwaL4)
Heart Failure. U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. (Accessed on May 29, 2018 at https://medlineplus.gov/heartfailure.html)