What Is Heart Failure? | Heart Disease

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So what is heart failure? Also known as congestive heart failure.

Well at its very core, it is any condition in which the heart muscle function is not enough to keep up with the demand. What we really mean, however, when we talk about heart failure is a weakened heart muscle. And this can come from a lot of different causes.

One cause may be a heart attack, which has weakened the entire heart or parts of the heart. A second cause may be conditions which directly attack the heart muscle. These can be a variety of different toxins that poison the heart muscle. Things like excessive alcohol or certain chemotherapy agents can directly attack the heart muscle's function.

A third class of causes of heart failure would be infection. Some viruses can do it, such as HIV and hepatitis, and other different types of infections can directly attack the heart muscle's function.

Some basic signs of heart failure would be effort intolerance, the ability to exert yourself. Another one would be frank shortness of breath, either at rest or, again, while you're exerting yourself. And the third most common sign of heart failure would be edema, or swelling, of your legs.

So if you're having any of the signs or symptoms of heart failure, your doctor may want to do some basic tests, such as cardiac ultrasound, to see how your heart muscle function is working. Basically that is what heart failure, or congestive heart failure, is.

Symptoms of Heart Failure | Heart Disease

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So how can someone know if they have heart failure? Well heart failure is really any condition in which the heart is not able to keep up with the demands of the body. Most of the time, we're talking about a weakened heart muscle, and this can have a variety of different signs or symptoms.

The most common of which would be effort and tolerance, or the inability to exert yourself, shortness of breath, or swelling in the lower extremities, or legs. If you describe any of these symptoms to your doctor, he or she may want to start with some basic tests to see how your heart muscle is functioning. They will listen to your heart, do an EKG, and oftentimes, go on to do a cardiac ultrasound, or echo cardiogram.

Heart failure has a spectrum of severity. It can come in mild, moderate or severe. And oftentimes, the mild stages may have minimal or no symptoms. The good news is there is treatment for heart failure and there are ways to prevent your risk. So the classic symptoms, in conjunction with a doctor's evaluation would be how to recognize if you have heart failure.

Women’s Heart Attack Symptoms vs. Men’s | Heart Disease

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So regards to heart disease there can be some basic difference between men and women. First of all, like a lot of times in life the classic symptoms are in common. In men we classically describe he symptoms of heart disease as squeezing or burning substernal or below the chest pain. Women may have their symptoms show up a little differently. Oftentimes its a vague sense of discomfort in the chest when they exert themselves. Sometimes the symptoms can be sharp. They're not always exertional and may often be associated with shortness of breath as oppose to frank chest discomfort.

The way heart disease develops in women may also be different. Heart disease often comes on later in life after menopause and can show up with more diffuse blocked arteries as opposed to one single artery that has a major blockage. It is also very important for women to get screen for heart disease. We know now, heart disease in women has been under recognized and now we realize that just like for men its' a major concern.

Luckily screening is easy. You see your doctor and he or she will do some basic test to help screen you. It is also important for women to control the major risk factors for heart disease. That would be high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of exercise and smoking. We used to think that certain hormones would help protect women against heart disease, like estrogen. We now know that this is not entirely the case and women can develop heart disease even before menopause occurs. So it is very important that like in men we recognize the signs and symptoms of heart disease in women and treat them aggressively.

2 Symptoms of a Leaking Heart Valve | Heart Disease

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So, before we talk about what the symptoms are for a leaky heart valve, let's talk a little bit about what the heart valves are, and what their function is in the heart. The heart valves are doors in the heart that are supposed to open widely and let blood flow in one direction of the heart, and then close tightly, without letting any back flow, or regurgitation, what we call leakiness in the heart.

Leaky heart valves are not uncommon. They can be caused by several things. Some are deteriorations over time, and people with heart valves that were abnormal from birth, and others are things that are picked up along the way, like infections that can attack the heart valve, or a buildup of atherosclerosis that can cause calcification, or thickening of those heart valves.

There are four main valves in the heart. For the most part, symptoms usually come when one of the two left-sided heart valves have a problem. Your doctor is usually able to pick this up when they listen to your heart with a stethoscope and hear what we call a murmur, or abnormal heart sound. Once your doctor identifies the murmur, he or she will send you for further imaging. Most often, we use cardiac ultrasound to take a good picture of the heart and see how the valves are functioning. We have waves on the cardiac ultrasound to tell us the heart valves are too leaky or too stiff and whether or not they're functioning well overall.

When valves don't function properly, they can do one of two things. They can either be pretty tight, or stenotic, or leaky, or regurgitant. Either one can lead to some symptoms. Those symptoms would be shortness of breath when you exert yourself, or lower extremity swelling, or edema. Usually, they come on pretty gradually and you would notice an increase of symptoms over time such as the lack of ability to walk up a flight or two of stairs, something you might have been able to do just a few months or a year before. The other thing would be increased swelling in the legs. And you might notice at the end of a long day that your legs are more swollen than they used to be. These are the two main signs of a leaky or tight heart valve.

For the most part, leaky heart valves show up as an inability to exert yourself, shortness of breath, or swelling of your feet or legs. The main heart valves which can be leaky would be the left-sided heart valves, which we call the aortic valve or the mitral valve. And that's what you really need to know about a leaky heart valve.

4 Symptoms of Heart Disease | Heart Disease

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So what are some of the symptoms of heart disease that we can look out for? Some of them are pretty basic. They would be chest pressure or pain, shortness of breath, lower extremity edema, or palpitations. If we talk a little bit about each one, chest pain can sometimes be confusing. When doctors reference pain, we're not always talking about a sharp discomfort in the chest. As a matter of fact, sometimes pressure or discomfort in the chest, would be more concerning. In terms of shortness of breath, it could be either shortness of breath at rest, or when you try to exert yourself, such as going up a flight or two of stairs.

The lower extremity swelling is something we call edema, and you'll notice that usually at the end of the day. A good way to test it is just by pinching the ankle and seeing if your pinch leaves a dent in the skin. And the palpitations, that's a tough one to describe, but usually it means an awareness or funny sensation of the heart that can be either irregular or fast. If you have any of these symptoms, the best thing to do would of course be to speak with your doctor, because although sometimes this can be a sign of heart disease, obviously a lot of other things could also cause these kinds of symptoms.

Signs You’re Having a Heart Attack | Heart Disease

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How can someone know if they're having a heart attack? Well, that can be tricky. Firstly, a heart attack can classically present as chest discomfort or pain or pressure in the chest. It's usually squeezing and dull in nature and may be associated with sweatiness. The symptoms may stay in the chest wall, or travel or radiate to the neck, arm, or left jaw.

If you feel like you're having any of those kinds of symptoms, it's important to call your doctor right away, or 911 if you can't reach your doctor. The symptoms of a heart attack, unfortunately, are not always classic and some people have vague discomforts in the chest or trouble breathing. Not everyone who's having a heart attack shows up the same way.

We've learned that not everyone has the same symptoms. Women for example may have different symptoms than men and may not have the classic chest discomfort.

Another group of people that may have different symptoms are diabetics or patients with diabetes. They may not have symptoms at all. And sometimes it can be very challenging to know if they are having a heart attack.

During a heart attack, time is very important to help save heart muscle and save lives. If you feel you may be having some symptoms associated with a heart attack, it's important that you seek medical attention right away.