What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure (HF), also known as chronic heart failure (CHF), is when the heart is unable to pump sufficiently to maintain blood flow to meet the body’s needs. Signs and symptoms of heart failure commonly include shortness of breath, excessive tiredness, and leg swelling. The shortness of breath is usually worse with exercise, while lying down, and may wake the person at night. A limited ability to exercise is also a common feature. Chest pain, including angina, does not typically occur due to heart failure.

Common causes of ‘heart failure’ include coronary artery disease including a previous myocardial infarction (heart attack), high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, valvular heart disease, excess alcohol use, infection, and cardiomyopathy of an unknown cause. These cause “heart failure” by changing either the structure or the functioning of the heart.

Causes of Heart Failure:

Heart failure may also occur in situations of “high output” (termed “high-output heart failure”), where the amount of blood pumped is more than typical and the heart is unable to keep up. This can occur in overload situations (blood or serum infusions), kidney diseases, chronic severe anemia, beriberi (vitamin B1/thiamine deficiency), hyperthyroidism, cirrhosis, Paget’s disease, multiple myeloma, arteriovenous fistulae, or arteriovenous malformations.

Viral infections of the heart can lead to inflammation of the muscular layer of the heart and subsequently contribute to the development of heart failure. Heart damage can predispose a person to develop heart failure later in life and has many causes including systemic viral infections (e.g., HIV), chemotherapeutic agents such as daunorubicin, cyclophosphamide, and trastuzumab, and abuse of drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

An uncommon cause is an exposure to certain toxins such as lead and cobalt. Additionally, infiltrative disorders such as amyloidosis and connective tissue diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus have similar consequences. Obstructive sleep apnea (a condition of sleep wherein disordered breathing overlaps with obesity, hypertension, and/or diabetes) is regarded as an independent cause of heart failure.

Acute decompensation

Kerley B lines in acute cardiac decompensation. The short, horizontal lines can be found everywhere in the right lung.

Chronic stable heart failure may easily decompensate. This most commonly results from an intercurrent illness (such as myocardial infarction (a heart attack), pneumonia), abnormal heart rhythms, uncontrolled hypertension, or a person’s failure to maintain a fluid restriction, diet, or medication.

Other factors that may worsen CHF include anemia, hyperthyroidism, excessive fluid or salt intake, and medication such as NSAIDs and thiazolidinediones.

Medications

A number of medications may cause or worsen the disease. This includes NSAIDS, a number of anesthetic agents such as ketamine, thiazolidinediones, a number of cancer medications, salbutamol, and tamsulosin.

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