When you hear the words “heart failure,” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Many people automatically think of a heart attack. While these two health issues are related, there is a difference between heart failure and a heart attack. So what’s the difference? We’ll sort it out for you.
What Heart Failure Is and Isn’t
Heart failure is a cardiovascular disease that occurs when your heart cannot fill with enough blood or pump enough blood and oxygen to other organs in your body. In heart failure, the pumping chambers of your heart, also known as the ventricles, become too stiff to fill the way they should between heart beats. In some instances of heart failure, your ventricles become weak and stretched.
Heart failure is designated by the right or left side of your heart. Right-side heart failure happens when your heart can’t pump enough blood to your lungs to pick up oxygen. Left-side heart failure occurs when your heart can’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body. Congestive heart failure is identified when blood backs up — or congests — in your liver, abdomen, lungs and your lower extremities. However, not all heart failure is congestive.
Heart failure is not a heart attack. A heart attack, which is also called a myocardial infarction, occurs when a part of your heart muscle doesn’t receive enough blood flow. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart muscle.
Causes of Heart Failure
Heart attack is often a cause of heart failure, among many other cardiovascular conditions. Other related conditions that cause heart failure include:
• Coronary artery disease (the most common cause)
• High blood pressure
• Heart valve problems
• Other cardiovascular factors
Symptoms of Heart Failure
If you experience heart failure, you may have symptoms including shortness of breath; difficulty breathing when you lie down; weight gain or swelling of the feet, legs, ankles or stomach; and an overall feeling of tiredness of weakness.
Types of Treatment
More than five million people in the United States have heart failure. With medical and lifestyle interventions, many people with heart failure not only extend their lives but they enhance their quality of life. These interventions may be in the form of medications, diet changes, daily exercise and proactive management by you and your cardiac care team.
Reach out to your doctor to discuss your concerns or symptoms. It’ll do your heart good.