Over 5.7 million people suffer from heart failure in the United States alone. In Europe, it is over 14 million people. Guess what? This number keeps rising all the time.
In spite of such a vast section of the population suffering from heart failure, most of the people do not know the difference between heart failure and heart attack (According to a 2015 American Heart Association survey).
Yes, heart failure and heart attack are two very different conditions. Most people believe that they are one and the same. This is a dangerous misconception to have in today’s world as there has been constant rise in the number heart failure cases.
It is very important to be educated about heart failure. This is not just important to take necessary precaution to prevent heart failure for yourself, but also to help those around you too.
So, let’s dive right into it.
Heart Failure vs. Heart Attack
Heart failure is a condition wherein the heart’s efficiency drops considerably. The main objective or function of the heart is to pump blood to different parts of the body. Heart failure directly affects the heart’s ability to pump the necessary amount of blood required by the body. Heart muscle walls, with time, weaken and as a result the heart will not be able to pump blood as strongly as required. The chambers in the heart stretch and contract which makes it possible to hold and pump blood respectively. During heart failure, this is negatively affected. Kidneys react in a negative way to heart failure causing salt and fluid accumulation in the body. Fluid build up occurs in different parts of the body such as lungs, feet, ankles, legs, and arms.
Heart attack, on the other hand, is when a coronary artery in the heart gets blocked or clogged and as a result oxygen supply is cut off from the heart. Due to oxygen deprivation from the heart muscles, a part of it dies resulting in heart damage. In simple words, blockage of blood flow to the heart results in heart attacks and weakened heart results in heart failure.
Symptoms of Heart Failure
Now that we know the difference between heart failure and heart attack, let’s jump right into the symptoms of heart failure. Heart failure symptoms range from mild, moderate, and severe, and may include some or all of the following:
Water and Fluid Build-up
As the amount of blood reduces in the kidney your body reacts to it by hanging on to fluid in other parts. As a result, your belly, legs, and ankles start swelling up. Doctors refer to this as swelling edema. The extra fluid in the body also results in weight gain and bloating. You feel less hungry and nauseated. You also take frequent and more pee breaks in the night.
You will find yourself short of breath more often due to fluid backup in the lungs. Breathing is not only harder during exercises; it also becomes harder during rest at times. It becomes harder to get air even when lying flat on the bed. You experience wheezing and dry cough.
Irregular or Faster Heart Beats
As the heart fails to pump enough blood to other parts of the body, it tries to make up for it by pumping faster and the pace and rhythm becomes irregular.
Fatigue, Dizziness, and Weakness
Major muscle groups and organs in your body do not get enough blood, and this makes you feel weak and tired. You experience confusion and dizziness due to less blood to the brain.
There is a possibility that you may not experience any of the above symptoms but still suffer from heart failure. Sometimes the symptoms are not directly related to the weakness of your heart, and hence not easy without proper medical check-up to recognise them. Hence, it is in your best interest to have regular medical checkups.
What Heart Failure Really Means To You?
Heart failure is not the end of life. It definitely doesn’t mean that you have stop doing the things that your love and enjoy doing. It means that you need to the necessary measures and treatments to ensure that your heart continues to work at its possible best. Seek the opinion of a good doctor when you see any of the symptoms and strictly adhere with the doctor’s instructions.
Myths and Facts
Here are some myths and facts you must know about heart failure:
Heart stops beating: As you have already learnt, heart failure doesn’t mean that your heart stopped beating
Untreatable: Heart failure is absolutely treatable. There are a lot of ways to reduce the symptoms and delay progression
Can’t exercise: You absolutely can. In fact, it is important for people with heart failure condition to exercise.
Result of ageing: Absolutely not. Heart failure is not a result of ageing. It is a cardiovascular condition that even younger people can experience.
It can kill: Yes, heart failure can result in death. It can greatly shorten your life but with the right treatment and life style, it can be avoided.
Very common: Yes, a large group of the population experiences heart failure.
Strikes at any age: There are cases of children suffering from heart condition. Being young and in good shape does not mean that you are not prone to heart failure.
Hereditary: Heart failure, at times, is a generic disorder and is inherited. This means that there is a possibility of suffering from heart failure without any risk factors.
Treatable but not curable: Yes, it can be treated but not cured. It is a serious and lifelong condition. The best thing you can do is manage it.
Live happy and active life: Yes, you can live a happy, healthy, and active life. With the right diet and lifestyle, you can live a full life with the condition. Heart failure is not an excuse to live a complete life.