What is Heart Failure?Heart failure is a progressive disease where the heart muscle isn't able to pump as effectively as it needs to. When a patient has heart failure, not enough blood is reaching the cells of the body to supply needed amounts of oxygen. At the onset of heart failure, the body compensates for the reduced blood flow by enlarging the heart muscle, making the heart beat faster, or narrowing the blood vessels to increase blood pressure. Because the body is so adept at compensating for the early stages of heart failure, many people do not notice symptoms until they have been sick for some time. This is one reason annual check-ups are important, especially if you have any risk factors for heart disease. Symptoms a person might feel as heart failure progresses include fatigue, breathlessness, a rapid heartbeat, or swelling in the feet and legs. A doctor can check for heart failure using blood tests, x-rays, an electrocardiogram, or an exercise stress test. If heart failure is diagnosed, lifestyle modifications such as weight loss, exercise, sodium restriction, and avoiding alcohol and cigarettes are recommended in order to protect the heart. There are a large number of medications on the market that used to treat heart failure, in several different classes. Some of these are ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, and statin drugs. Although it's not as common, surgery will sometimes be recommended for heart failure, for example if a patient needs a transplant or bypass surgery.
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