Heart Failure

Heart failure, also referred to as congestive heart failure, occurs when the heart loses its ability to pump blood within the body effectively. As a result, there is relative stagnation and backward pooling of blood in vital organs and vessels.

One of the early symptoms of heart failure is shortness of breath, especially during exercise. As the patient’s condition worsens, congestion in the lungs and breathing difficulties develop. Some patients may also notice a “wet” sound when they are breathing.

This is caused by the build-up of fluid in the air sacs of the lungs. At the same time, the accumulation of fluid in organs such as the liver and intestines will cause the patient to experience abdominal pain and loss of appetite. Distension of the veins in the neck may also occur due to the pooling of blood in these vessels.

At a more severe stage of heart failure, the patient’s kidneys may begin to fail due to inadequate blood supply. This results in further accumulation of water and waste products in the body, thus aggravating the swelling (oedema) of the body.

In particular, fluid is likely to build up in the patient’s legs and ankles due to the effect of gravity. Such fluid will be reabsorbed into the bloodstream when the patient lies down, flooding his lungs and aggravating his breathlessness. The patient may even need to lie propped up or stand simply to breathe.

Heart failure can develop as a result of:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • A previous heart attack
  • High blood pressure;
  • Damage to the heart valves (for instance, due to rheumatic fever or other infections);
  • Cardiomyopathy (a disease of the heart muscle which causes it to become progressively weaker and gradually lose its ability to pump blood effectively).