Is heart failure inevitable?

Cardiology, Cardio-thoracic Surgery

Heart failure is the weakening of the heart muscle to the point that it can no longer pump enough blood to supply the other organs, which can seriously threaten a patient’s life. If heart disease is not handled properly, it can lead to heart failure. This doesn’t mean it’s unavoidable, though. As long as the cause is found and timely medical treatment is sought, the condition can be turned around.


Heart failure primarily occurs on its own, or it can be caused by various heart diseases. The more common causes include myocardial infarction, severe vascular disease, coronary heart disease, heart valve disease, and congenital heart disease. Other health issues such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism and alcoholism can also damage the heart muscles and increase the risk of heart failure.  


Once heart failure sets in, the heart’s ability to pump blood is affected, so the patient’s mobility will noticeably decline, and they will be easily winded. Some patients with severe conditions may be unable to lie down or sleep through the night due to shortness of breath – coughing and wheezing fits brought on by fluid retention in the lungs. Heart failure could also cause fluid retention in other parts of the body, such as foot edema or pulmonary (lung) edema. If patients have a underlying heart disease, they will also experience symptoms such as angina, dizziness, or a fast palpitation.


Heart failure can be divided into four levels of severity. At the first level, the patient’s exercise performance is unaffected, while at the fourth and most severe level, even sitting leaves patients breathless. This level is associated with a high mortality rate.


To diagnose heart failure, doctors usually use a heart ultrasound and chest X-ray to seek out the possible causes, before deciding on the most suitable course of action, such as heart surgery or percutaneous coronary intervention (angioplasty).


To treat heart failure, you have to address the cause. By getting the cause under control early, we avoid further damage to the heart muscle, lowering the risk of worsening heart failure. Most medicines for heart failure also help to reduce the burden on the heart and keep it from enlarging (heart failure is associated with enlargement of heart chambers), while some medicines may even be able to improve the heart function. Dosage is based on the individual patient’s condition and tolerance; for those with more serious conditions, doctors may consider implanting a device, such as a bi-ventricular pacemaker, to stabilise their heartbeat.


Of course, for the best results, in addition to medication, patients should also focus on their diet and lifestyle, starting with limiting their daily water intake and going on a low-sodium diet to avoid edema. Regular follow-up visits are a must, too, to allow doctors to closely monitor their condition and adjust their medications if needed.