Heart Failure: Understanding Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Heart Failure: Understanding Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

At first, only the ability to perform is limited during heavy physical exertion; later, breathing becomes difficult even at rest. The ankles swell, and the night’s sleep is disturbed by constant trips to the toilet. About two to three million Germans know the symptoms of chronic heart failure from their own painful experience.

The importance of the heart muscle

The heart is a hollow muscle with a lifelong, permanent pumping capacity. It is the motor of the circulatory system. The strength of the heart’s muscles determines how effectively the cardiovascular system works and how well it can adapt to physical stress. If the heart muscle can no longer contract sufficiently, the cardiac output no longer meets the requirements. First, with particular exertion, later, even the pumping capacity at rest can only be managed with difficulty.

Chronic heart failure is among the most common diseases in Western nations; in terms of causes of death, it ranks third in Germany – after coronary artery disease ( CHD ) and heart attacks and before lung cancer.


Constant overload of the heart

Like other muscles, the heart can be trained through regular exercise and thus become more efficient. Physical stress, associated with increased blood pressure and heart rate, challenges and stimulates the heart muscle. However, chronic overstraining of the heart muscle, as can happen with certain diseases, over the long term exceeds its ability to adapt. The body tries to regulate the cardiac output so that all organs are adequately supplied.

But it’s like when a weak engine propels a heavy car – it slows down on every incline. Then, the driver has to shift down a gear and drive at higher revs to get up the mountain. But in the long run, high-speed driving damages the engine and performance decreases. Applied to the heart, it beats faster, and blood pressure increases so that more blood can be transported per heartbeat.

Early detection is essential.

If this overload continues, the heart is damaged even more and can perform even less than before. The heartbeat is increased even more to supply the organs better. This enlarges the heart muscle and weakens it even more.

Once started, this vicious cycle is almost impossible to stop. Therefore, it is essential to counteract the onset of heart failure as early as possible and strengthen the heart again.


Causes of heart failure

A distinction is made between primary heart failure, which is caused by an independent, primarily genetic disease of the heart muscle itself, and secondary heart failure, in which the limited pumping capacity develops as a result of chronic overloading of the healthy heart.

Various diseases can impair heart muscle strength. These include congenital anomalies in the cardiovascular system, chronic circulatory disorders in coronary heart disease, long-term effects of heart valve damage and heart muscle diseases such as dilated cardiomyopathy, an enlargement of the ventricle that can occur as a result of heart muscle inflammation, among other things.

However, long-term high blood pressure or chronic alcohol abuse, hormone disorders (e.g. th, thyroid disorders), kidney or lung diseases and permanent anaemia can also lead to cardiac insufficiency.

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