Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, occurs when the muscles of the heart become weakened and start to pump blood less efficiently. Though the condition does not mean your heart has stopped working, it can lead to serious health complications.
Roughly 6.2 million adults in the U.S. are living with some form of heart failure, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The following conditions may contribute to heart failure.
Symptoms of Heart Failure
Signs of heart failure may develop suddenly or gradually over time. Depending on the cause and severity of your condition, symptoms may include the following.
- Congestion: When the heart functions less efficiently, it can cause fluid to build up in the lungs, which can lead to wheezing, coughing, or shortness or breath.
- Fluid retention and swelling: Heart failure can cause less blood to reach your kidneys, which can lead to fluid retention around your legs, ankles, and abdomen.
- Heartbeat irregularities: A weakened heart may beat faster to ensure enough blood circulates through the body. This may result in an irregular or rapid heartbeat.
- Physical weakness: A decrease in heart function can cause less blood to reach vital organs and muscles, resulting in physical weakness, fatigue, dizziness, or confusion.
Heart failure may present all of these symptoms or none of them. Speak with your primary care doctor about signs of heart failure, or make an appointment with a heart and vascular expert at Bayhealth.
How We Diagnose Heart Failure
The following diagnostic procedures may be used to identify heart failure.
- Blood tests: Blood tests can determine if you have developed any other conditions that may affect your heart’s performance.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG): Electrical pulses generated by your heart are measured and evaluated to determine if any cardiac problems exist.
- Chest X-ray: This imaging test can detect fluid buildup in or around the heart, as well as other abnormalities such as an enlarged heart or improperly formed valves.
- Echocardiogram: Sound waves are directed to your heart, causing a pattern that allows your physician to see if valves and other parts of the heart are operating properly.
- Ejection fraction: Performed by a physician during tests such as an ultrasound, MRI, CT, or cardiac catheterization, an ejection fraction measures how well your heart pumps blood.
- Stress test: This test compares cardiac function during exercise and after a period of rest.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A combination of a magnetic field and radio waves creates three-dimensional images of your heart to determine if disease or physical abnormalities are present.
- Computerized Tomography (CT): X-ray signals of the body are processed by a computer in narrow “slices,” ensuring maximum image accuracy.
- Cardiac catheterization: A liquid dye is injected through a narrow tube (catheter) into an artery, allowing a series of rapid X-rays to create a motion video of the heart and arteries.
Procedures and Treatment Options
Treatment of heart failure depends on the cause and severity of the condition. Your Bayhealth physician may address it using one or more of the following procedures.
- Coronary bypass surgery: The flow of blood to the heart is redirected, bypassing the blocked areas.
- Valve repair or replacement: If it’s determined that one of the valves in your heart is damaged, it may either be repaired or replaced with tissue or a mechanical valve.
- Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs): These devices are designed to shock your heart back into a normal rhythm when it is beating irregularly or too slowly.
- Biventricular pacemakers: These devices keep your heart beating at a normal pace.
Living with Heart Failure
For more information about congestive heart failure—including tips for healthy living—download our free guide for patients and care partners.