Heart failure is a condition where the heart is no longer able to continue its normal functioning. The key function of the left side of the heart is to supply blood along with oxygen and essential nutrients for cells to the entire body through its network of blood vessels while the right side of the heart receives impure blood from the body via veins and purifies it.
Thus if the heart does not function properly, all parts of the body are affected.
If the left side of the heart is unable to pump out blood adequately, it tends to go back due to back pressure. This causes congestion in the lungs due to which one gets breathless on exertion. Initially one gets breathless on moderate to severe exertion, but as the condition progresses, one is short of breath even on rest and lying down.
Since the weakened heart has to put in greater effort to pump blood forward, its rate of beating becomes faster. This results into palpitations or an uncomfortable awareness of heart beating.
As the heart failure progresses, perfusion to the body parts is diminished. Decreased perfusion to the kidneys results in failure of functioning of kidney. Gradually, functioning of the liver is also impaired, leading to what is known as cardiac cirrhosis.
Long standing malfunctioning of the left side of the heart imposes a strain on the adjacent right ventricle leading slowly to its failure also. As the right sided heart failure starts, one starts getting swelling over feet, which later on becomes generalized.
Chronic heart failure mostly develops due to long standing hypertension, particularly uncontrolled. Diabetes, high lipid levels in blood, ischemic heart disease, chronic anaemia, protein deficiency, diseases of joints like rheumatoid arthritis, infectious diseases of the heart layers or valves, chronic lung diseases, alcohol and smoking, all these can cause heart failure. These diseases usually lead to heart failure in the elderly. Children can develop this condition due to defects in the heart present since birth.
Swelling occuring on the feet in the evening or after walking should alert one to the possibility of cardiac failure. Breathlessness on slight exertion or rest should also raise the alarm that the heart is not functioning very well.
Tests like X-ray chest, electrocardiogram and echocardiography confirm the diagnosis of cardiac failure.
Once a person has developed cardiac failure, his health takes a downhill course. Long term medication is needed which invariably leads to side effects.
A very potent diuretic (drug which increases urine output) frusemide is used in all cases of cardiac failure to reduce the congestion of the lungs and pedal edema by removing accumulated salt and water. But whereas one gets some relief from these symptoms, he or she starts suffering from many of the side effects, like muscular cramps, giddiness, and nausea, aggravation of diabetes and precipitation of gout etc.
Muscular pains are also produced in these persons because of taking a salt restricted diet for long.
Thus in a way these people suffering from cardiac failure reach a point of no return to normal health.
Considering this difficult state, is it not better to prevent the development of cardiac failure? A healthy life style keeps the heart healthy all the time. A balanced nutritious diet keeps off anaemia and protein deficiency. Optimal control of hypertension and diabetes is needed to prevent development of heart failure.
Breathing exercises have proved to be very useful in keeping a person with heart failure comfortable. With proper diet, medication and regular suitable exercises a person suffering from cardiac failure can also lead a good quality life.