You may feel frightened or upset if you hear that you or someone in your family has been told they have heart failure. However, with treatment and drugs many people live full and active lives.
What is heart failure?
Heart failure means that for some reason, your heart is not pumping blood around the body as well as it used to. The most common reason is that your heart muscle has been damaged, for example, after a heart attack.
What causes heart failure?
There are lots of reasons why you might be diagnosed with heart failure. It can be sudden or it can happen slowly over months or even years.
Some causes of heart failure are:
- a previous heart attack
- problems with the valves in your heart
- cardiomyopathies diseases of the heart muscle
- too much alcohol
- congenital conditions - ones you are born with
What are the signs and symptoms of heart failure?
Not everyone experiences the same symptoms and everyone copes in different ways. There are four different stages of heart failure and so your symptoms will vary from stage to stage. You might feel out of breath if you are physically active or for some people even at rest. You may also have swollen feet and ankles and feel very tired.
How is heart failure diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask you questions about your medical history and talk to you about what has caused your heart failure. The reason for your condition will make a difference to how your symptoms are controlled. You may need to have tests which include blood tests, an electrocardiogram (ECG) and an echocardiogram.
How is heart failure treated?
While there isn't a cure for heart failure, the treatment to control symptoms has improved dramatically. Your doctor will prescribe drugs that will help control your blood pressure and help the pumping action of your heart.
They will also give you advice about making changes to your lifestyle that will help you do all the things that you enjoy, improve your condition and live a normal life. These include:
- cutting down on salt
- eating a healthy balanced diet
- stop smoking
- keeping active
If you are caring for someone with a long-term heart condition like heart failure, it can be physically and emotionally demanding for you too. Therefore, it is important that you look after yourself as well. There are many voluntary organisations that can help and support you.
You may also find it helpful to join a heart support group where you can talk to other people with heart conditions.
To find out where your nearest heart support group is, please call the Heart HelpLine on 0300 330 3311 (local rate number) for more information.
British Heart Foundation – www.bhf.org.uk