June 01, 2011

Preventing heart failure

Get ahead of the problem

Preventing heart failure

Heart failure — also known as congestive heart failure — means your heart can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs. The problem often develops after the heart has been weakened or damaged by other health conditions.

The prevalence of heart failure has increased substantially. In fact, the American Heart Association describes it as a growing epidemic. Its prominence coincides with a predicted surge in the aging population. Added to that is the fact that modern therapies can help extend the lives of many who survive a heart attack or have cardiovascular disease. Therefore, these people may be more likely to develop congestive heart failure.

More efforts are being directed at recognizing and managing the risk factors and conditions commonly associated with the development of heart failure. Although heart failure can often be treated with good results, it's a serious chronic disease — the rate of death five years after diagnosis is 50 percent for men and 46 percent for women.

A weakened pump

Over time, a heart that's compromised by underlying disease can change in function and appearance. The heart's main pumping chambers — the ventricles — may become stiff and not fill properly between beats. In addition, the heart muscle may weaken. The ventricles can stretch (dilate) so much that the heart can't pump blood efficiently to the rest of your body. This may result in signs and symptoms such as shortness of breath and leg swelling.

Although heart failure can involve the left side,...