Heart failure is different from heart attack?

It certainly is, and the distinction is very basic. In the simplest terms, heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.

If there is failure in the left side of the heart (which pumps oxygenated blood from the lungs to the body), it causes fluids to back up and accumulate in the lungs. If there is failure in the right side of the heart (which pumps ‘used’ blood from the body back to the lungs), fluids back up in the body tissues. Left – and right-sided, or congestive, heart failure can occur simultaneously and can result in such severe decreases in blood flow that body organs fail to function properly. The symptoms associated with heart failure include shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, fatigue, dizziness, confusion, abdominal pain and other minor signs.

Heart failure can be the end result of a host of different cardiac diseases: coronary artery disease and scarring of the heart muscle from heart attacks, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart valve disease, congenital heart defects and cardiomyopathy. Each of these can put an extra burden on the heart. Although initially the heart may compensate for this stress, with time its ability to pump is impaired, and signs of heart failure begin to develop. Many times a cardiac sonographer will take detailed pictures of a patient’s heart to confirm diagnosis and determine treatment.

The first line of treatment in heart failure is usually to treat the underlying disease – coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, heart valve disease, alcoholism or whatever – that is causing heart to fail.

To treat chronic heart failure itself, doctors usually suggest reduced physical activity to lessen the amount of work the heart must do. In more severe cases, periods of bed rest may be necessary. To increase the strength of the heart’s contractions and make the heart work more efficiently, doctors commonly prescribe drugs. The drug treatment will depend on the specific problem, but it might include digitalis (to improve heart strength and rhythm), diuretics (to remove excess water) and other drugs to improve pumping action. A low-salt diet will probably be prescribed. Finally, for heart failure not helped by these measures, a heart transplant may be considered.

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