Walking up a few steps leaves you disproportionately winded or, worse, you struggle to breathe when you lie down. These are two of the hallmarks of congestive heart failure, a serious disease that affects approximately 6.2 million people in the United States.
As heart health experts, the experienced and comprehensive team here at Advanced Cardiovascular Specialists wants to do all that we can to help our patients better educate themselves on the signs of heart disease. As part of these efforts, we’re going to focus on congestive heart failure here so that you can readily identify when there may be a problem.
We’re going to start backward and first provide a description of the problem before we get into the potential signs of congestive heart failure.
Put simply, this condition occurs when your heart has trouble pumping sufficient oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood throughout your body. Failure is perhaps too strong a word for the condition as your heart hasn’t failed — a better word may be struggling.
About 870,000 people are diagnosed with congestive heart failure each year in the US, and both men and women are equally susceptible, though women typically show signs later in life.
To understand heart failure, it’s helpful to quickly review how your heart functions. Your heart is made up of four chambers — the two upper atria and the two lower ventricles. Your right atrium receives blood and transfers it to your right ventricle, which pushes your blood into your lungs for oxygen. Your left atria then receives the newly oxygenated blood, pumps it down to your left ventricle, where it’s pushed out into your body.
With congestive heart failure, there can be problems in one of two areas: 1) reduced left ventricular function in which your left ventricle isn’t pumping the blood out properly; and 2)
preserved left ventricular function, in which your two ventricles are stiffer than normal, limiting the amount of blood that gets pumped through your heart.
No matter which type of congestive heart failure you may have developed, the symptoms are generally the same and include:
Many different conditions can lead to some of these symptoms. For example, a respiratory infection can often leave you short of breath, tired, and unable to breathe well when you’re lying flat. If you’re feeling these symptoms without an identifiable cause, such as the flu-like scenario we just described, it’s time to come see us for a full evaluation.
If, after reviewing your symptoms and medical history, we feel that you should be tested for congestive heart failure, we perform some basic tests, such as blood tests and an echocardiogram. Another key test is determining your ejection fraction (EF), which shows us the rate at which your ventricles are pumping out blood. Your resulting EF number is a percentage that demonstrates whether you have heart failure and to what extent.
Based on our findings, we place you on an appropriate treatment plan, which will likely include medications, lifestyle changes, and close monitoring.
If you want to learn more about congestive heart failure, please contact our office in Mountain View, California, to set up a consultation.