Quick Facts & Questions About Heart Failure
Q: What is heart failure?
A: Heart failure is a progressive condition in which the heart's muscle becomes weakened after it is injured from something
like a heart attack or high blood pressure and gradually loses its ability to pump enough blood to supply the body's needs. Many people
don't even know they have it because its symptoms are often mistaken for signs of getting older. Heart failure does not develop overnight
- it's a progressive disease that starts slowly and gets worse over time.
Q: How common is heart failure?
A: Heart failure is common, but unrecognized and often misdiagnosed. It affects nearly 5 million Americans. Heart failure is the only
major cardiovascular disorder on the rise. An estimated 400,000 to 700,000 new cases of heart failure are diagnosed each year and the number of deaths in
in the United States from this condition has more than doubled since 1979, averaging 250,000 annually.
Q: How much money per year is spent on heart failure research?
A: The 5 million Americans suffering from heart failure received $28.7 million in research dollars. In comparison,
lung cancer research, which affects 390,000 Americans, received $132 million.
Q: What is the prognosis for a patient with heart failure?
A: Less than 50 percent of patients are living five years after their initial diagnosis and less than 25 percent are alive at 10 years.
Poor prognosis can be attributed to a limited understanding of how the heart weakens and insufficient private and government funding.
Q: What causes heart failure?
A: Although heart failure may strike at any age, it is more common in people over the age of 65. Heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Prior heart attack
- History of heart murmurs
- Enlarged heart
- Family history of an enlarged heart
Q: What are the symptoms of heart failure?
A: The symptoms of heart failure may be subtle and are often mistaken for normal signs of aging. Common
symptoms of heart failure are:
- Shortness of breath, which can happen even during mild activity
- Difficulty breathing when lying down
- Weight gain with the swelling in the legs and ankles from fluid retention
- General fatigue and weakness
Q: How is heart failure diagnosed?
A: Doctors often order a number of tests when exploring a possible diagnosis of heart failure. The most important
of these test is the echocardiogram, or "echo", which tells a person what their ejection fraction (EF) is. The ejection fraction
is a measurement of how well the heart is pumping. People with a healthy heart have an EF of about 60 percent, while
people with heart failure have an EF of 40 percent or less.
With early diagnosis and newer treatments, people with heart failure are able to continue enjoying their everyday
activities and have a more normal life expectancy. Experts now recommend a three to four drug combination to treat
heart failure, which include digoxin to help the heart pump better and improve blood circulation and diuretics, sometimes
called water pills, to help remove extra fluid in the body and reduce swelling in the legs and ankles. Two newer classes
of medications, ACE inhibitors and beta blockers have been shown to slow disease progression and work by blocking certain
stress hormones in the body that are believed to be responsible for the progression of heart failure.