Living with Heart Failure

​The Heart Hospital at Saint Francis in Tulsa, OK, treats heart failure patients and raises community awareness about heart disease to increase survival rates. Heart failure is a chronic condition that usually develops over time. Although some conditions that cause heart failure are irreversible, you can manage the condition and improve your health and quality of life with a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.

Heart Failure: Causes and Symptoms

Heart failure, often referred to as congestive heart failure, doesn't mean the heart has failed or stopped beating; however, it does mean the heart is not working as well as it should and can't pump enough blood throughout the body. As the heart's pumping increases, blood often becomes congested in your lungs, liver or legs, which can cause shortness of breath, leg swelling (edema) and a variety of other symptoms (listed below). In addition, organs begin to function improperly due to lack of oxygen and nutrients.

Congestive heart failure is usually caused by underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure or heart disease. These conditions damage your heart, making the cardiac muscle stiff or thick. The damaged muscle either can't relax or contract properly for the ventricles, or pumping chambers, to fill with or pump out a sufficient amount of blood. The left ventricle is the main pumping chamber and heart failure usually originates on the left side.

There are two types of heart failure: systolic and diastolic - and it is possible to have a combination of both. Systolic heart failure occurs when the left ventricle can't contract enough. Diastolic heart failure occurs when the left ventricle can't fill with enough blood.

Symptoms of congestive heart failure include:

  • Fatigue, weakness and/or faintness
  • Need to urinate at night
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath when you are active or after you lie down
  • Weight gain
  • Swollen liver or abdomen
  • Swollen feet and ankles
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fast or irregular pulse

Heart Failure Treatment

Treatment for heart failure depends on its severity. All patients need dietary salt restriction and other lifestyle adjustments, medication and monitoring. Patients with extremely weakened hearts may need implanted devices (such as pacemakers, implantable cardiac defibrillators, or devices that help the heart pump blood) or surgery, including heart transplantation. Doctors usually treat heart failure, and the underlying conditions that cause it, with a combination of medications.

These medications include:
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Beta blockers
  • Diuretics
  • Aldosterone blockers
  • Digitalis
  • Hydralazine or nitrates
Other medications that may be helpful include statins, aspirin and warfarin.
While it is true heart failure is a serious condition, it’s also true that many people with heart failure lead full, enjoyable lives when the condition is managed with the proper medications and lifestyle changes. It's also helpful to have the support of family and friends who understand your condition.

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