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Heart failure

What is heart failure and how to identify it?

Heart failure is a heart disorder where the heart is unable to pump sufficiently blood to the tissue. To function normally, the heart must fill and empty without complication, the heart valves must function normally and the heart must receive blood and oxygen from the coronary arteries. Heart failure is not an independent disease. It is a symptom of a defect that impairs heart functions. The most common diseases causing heart failure are hypertension and coronary artery disease. If the functioning of the heart deteriorates, the patient begins to suffer from shortness of breath, tires more than usually during exertion and may experience discomfort lying down. The fluid load accumulating in the body causes swelling, particularly in the lower extremities. Heart damage due to, for example, myocardial infarction, may launch or suddenly aggravate heart failure. Sudden heart failure requires hospital treatment.

How is heart failure examined and treated?

Heart failure cannot be diagnosed with a single test. The diagnosis requires the identification of symptoms which correspond to heart failure, abnormal clinical findings by a doctor, and an incidence of a disease which may cause heart failure. A heart ultrasound is essential in diagnosing heart failure. It can be used to ascertain the diagnosis, and to analyse the mechanism of heart failure. The treatment of heart failure comprises healthy habits, exercise commensurate to the patient’s functional ability and symptoms, pharmacotherapy, and procedures. Drugs that improve the prognosis and remediate symptoms are both required in pharmacotherapy. The cause of heart failure, such as an occlusion of the coronary artery, hypertension or a valvular disease should always be corrected if possible. In severe heart failure, a pacemaker can be used in special conditions to help the heart contract more effectively. Self‑monitoring, commitment to pharmacotherapy, good instructions and compliance with instructions are key aspects of the treatment.

What are the most common risk factors related to heart failure?

Heart failure always has a cause. The most common causes are coronary artery occlusions, which block blood and oxygen flow to the heart, hypertension, which overstrains the heart, heart valve obstruction, and structural heart muscle defects and diseases, such as dilated cardiomyopathy. Many habits hazardous to health, such as excessive salt consumption, obesity, little exercise and smoking, increase the risk of heart failure through heart diseases. A heart muscle defect can be hereditary. In the long term, significant alcohol consumption alone can damage the heart muscle and cause heart failure.

When to see a doctor?

Further examinations are always in order in the case of suspected heart failure. While heart failure is rare in the middle-aged population, its symptoms, including fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath and swelling, are very common in healthy people, too. Heart failure is a serious condition. Heart failure prognosis and symptoms can be improved with competent care, which is why early diagnosis is important.