What is Heart Failure

What is Heart Failure

Heart failure is common. Around 6.2 million adults in the US have heart failure. Lifetime risk for heart failure is about 20%, or 1 in 5. Heart failure is a serious condition, and Arkansas ranked 4th among all states for the highest heart disease mortality in 2020.


What Is It?

Heart failure is when your heart does not pump enough blood. Every time it beats, more blood gets backed up into your veins. This causes fluid to build up in your body, causing swelling in your feet, ankles, legs, and stomach, also known as edema. Fluid can also build up in your lungs, a condition known as pulmonary edema, making it harder to breathe, especially when you lay flat.

What Does It Look Like?

The following scenarios could be indications of heart failure:

  • You used to be able to walk long distances, but now you’re getting winded after walking a portion of your route, having to stop for a moment to catch your breath.
  • You find yourself getting short of breath when you lie flat in bed, and you notice that you must use more pillows to prop yourself up to sleep at night so that you don’t feel short of breath. You might be starting to prefer sleeping in your recliner to your bed.
  • You find your legs are more swollen when you wake up in the morning.
  • You find yourself waking up suddenly at night, having to catch your breath.
  • You notice you are coughing or wheezing, especially when you exercise or lay down.
  • You are feeling more tired or run-down, even when you’re getting enough rest.

What causes it?

  • Coronary artery disease (which is related to having high cholesterol in your blood stream and can lead to heart attacks)
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Infection of the heart and/or heart valves
  • Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmias)
  • Thyroid problems

How do you diagnose it?

Heart failure can be a clinical diagnosis, meaning a doctor can examine you in clinic and make the call, but there are a few tests and studies that can also help. An echocardiogram, also known as the “echo” test, uses sound waves to examine the heart (the same way it’s used to examine a growing baby during pregnancy). A chest X-ray can help tell if there is fluid on the lungs and simple blood work can look for signs of fluid overload.

How is it treated?

There are a couple ways to reduce the symptoms and prolong life.

  • A low-salt diet helps reduce fluid retention. Where salt goes, water soon follows.
  • Testing for some of the causes, like diabetes, damage to the heart valves, and buildup of cholesterol in the arteries.
  • Keep track of your daily fluid intake.
  • Quitting smoking
  • Keep track of your blood pressure daily by a home monitor or visiting your local pharmacy.
  • Maintain a healthy weight to reduce the strain on your heart.

There are also medications that can help reduce the workload on your heart, help keep fluid from building up, lower blood pressure, and lower blood sugar.

Internal Medicine physicians are highly trained in treating heart failure and welcome new patients at White River Health Family Care on Harrison Street in Batesville, as well as WRH Family Care in Newport.