The human heart is a vital organ in the body, and is the center of the circulatory system. As you know, the heart has four chambers - two upper chambers or the atria, and two lower chambers or the ventricles. Blood is brought back from the body to the heart, and from there, it is again pumped through the circulatory system to all parts of the body.
How the Heart Functions
Contraction of the heart is called "systole" and relaxation is called "diastole", and these actions compose one beat of the heart. The right side of the heart receives blood from the body, and pumps the blood to the lungs. The left side receives blood from the lungs, and pumps the blood to all body parts. During relaxation or expansion of the heart, the chambers fill completely with blood. When the heart contracts, blood is pumped out.
Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a chronic and progressive condition where the muscles of the heart weaken considerably, and are unable to pump enough blood to meet the body's requirements. If the heart fails to pump out sufficient blood due to dysfunction of the chambers that contract to pump the blood, then the condition is known as systolic heart failure. Measurement of the ejection fraction (EF) helps assess the health of the heart. Symptoms like fluid backing up into the lungs and pulmonary congestion are noticed when the pumping capacity of the left ventricle is seriously affected. Systolic failure (systolic dysfunction) is the result of a pumping problem. It is caused by the ventricle that has lost its ability to contract normally due to weakened heart muscle.
The condition wherein the ventricles do not expand enough to fill with blood, and lead to inadequate supply of blood to the body parts is called diastolic heart failure. Diastolic dysfunction is the result of a filling problem, and it is caused by the ventricle that has lost its ability to relax because of the stiffened heart muscle. Inadequate filling eventually leads to inadequate blood supply. The condition usually results in fluid accumulation in the feet, ankles, and legs.
In some cases pulmonary congestion is also noticed. High blood pressure, many times, results in thickening of the heart muscle. So, diastolic failure is more common in elderly people (age above 75 years), and in those who have high blood pressure problem. It is more common in women than in men.
Depending upon which ventricle is affected, the condition is called right-sided or left-sided CHF. It is possible that both the ventricles are affected, and do not pump sufficient blood. Most people with CHF experience some degree of both, blood-pumping and blood-filling problems.
Women with chronic systolic heart failure are more likely than men to have symptoms such as swollen ankles (22% vs. 15%), elevated pressure in the jugular veins on each side of the neck (17% vs 5%), and shortness of breath due to accumulation of fluid in lungs. The symptoms of systolic and diastolic dysfunction are almost the same.
- Difficulty doing simple daily activities, like carrying groceries
- Constant cough and chest congestion which worsens while lying down
- Shortness of breath
- Water retention leading to swollen ankles, feet, leg, and belly
- Raspy breathing or wheezing
- Racing heartbeats
- Bulging of the veins in the neck
- Chest pain
The symptoms of CHF are almost the same in men and women, though their severity may vary from person to person. It has been noticed that most of the symptoms are a result of the congestion that occurs when the fluid backs up.
It has been observed that most of the above symptoms are mistaken for signs of aging or being overweight, especially in case of women. Sometimes people with asthma or lung diseases assume that the symptoms mentioned above are due to the pre-existing condition. It is a fact that heart and lung diseases sometimes occur together.
Blood is supplied first to the most vital organs, and all other organs have to work with insufficient blood which results in fatigue. To counterbalance its weaker pumping ability, the heart has to beat faster, so rapid heart beats are noticed. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should consult your doctor immediately so as to prevent any further damage.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.