Heart failure, which is not to be confused with a fatal heart attack, describes any condition that prevents the heart from pumping blood around the body effectively enough.
Around 70,000 people are diagnosed with heart failure in the UK each year.
Heart failure becomes more common as we age, affecting around 1 in 7 of people aged 85 or older
Data from the 2010-11 UK National Diabetes Audit showed that people with diabetes are up to 65% more likely to suffer heart failure than the rest of the population
Types of heart failure
The three most common types of heart failure are a result of the following:
- Left ventricular systolic dysfunction (LVSD) – weakening of the left ventricle, the part of the heart that pumps blood around the body
- Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFPEF) – this can cause the left ventricle to become stiff and impairs its ability to fill with blood
- Valve disease – if the valves of the heart suffer damage or their function deteriorates
Symptoms of heart failure
Some of the more common symptoms of heart failure include:
- Being short of breath
- Having swollen ankles or feet which may develop to include a swollen stomach and lower back
- Feeling unusually weak or fatigued
Diagnosing heart failure
The following tests may be run to diagnose heart failure and to assess the type of heart failure you may have:
- Blood tests – which can indicate whether heart failure is present or if the symptoms may be caused by another condition
- Breathing test – which can identify whether a lung condition is contributing to symptoms such as shortness of breath
- ECG (electrocardiogram) test – which measures the electrical activity as your heart beats
- Echocardiogram – which uses ultrasound to view the heart as it beats
Heart failure can be caused by a number of different problems and having more than one of these contributory factors will increase the risk of heart failure occurring.
Some of the main contributory factors for heart failure include:
- Heart disease
- Cardiomyopathy (deterioration of the heart muscle)
- Atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm)
- Problems that affect the valves of the heart
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Presence of diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease)
Treatments for heart failure
Treatments for heart failure can vary depending on the root cause or causes.
- Lifestyle changes – see preventing heart failure below which list the lifestyle changes that can also help with treating the condition
- Medications – which include diuretics, blood pressure medication and blood thinning medication
- Pacemakers or other medical devices such as ICDs (implantable cardioverter defibrillators) or CRT-Ds (cardiac resynchronization therapy pacemaker with defibrillation therapy)
- Surgery – which may include heart valve surgery, coronary angioplasty, coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) or heart transplantation
Preventing heart failure
A number of lifestyle interventions can help to reduce the risk of heart failure which includes:
- Maintaining a healthy weight – which include not being too thin as well as not being overweight
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Avoiding excess salt in your diet – severe salt restriction is to be avoided as well
- Having a healthy intake of iron to avoid anaemia
- Taking at least 2 and a half hours of exercise each week
- Decreasing alcohol intake
- Quitting smoking
- Keeping blood glucose levels tightly controlled – research has shown that reducing HbA1c by 1% lowers the risk of heart failure by 16% in people with type 2 diabetes.
In addition, research has shown reducing HbA1c by 1% decreases the risk of heart failure by 16% in people with type 2 diabetes.