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What is Heart Failure?

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Heart Failure related image Photo: Getty Images

Heart failure is a serious heart condition that affects almost 6 million people each year in the United States alone. Approximately 300,000 deaths in the U.S. are attributed to heart failure every year. The name – heart failure - is somewhat misleading in that your heart does not actually stop. Heart failure might be better described as a gradual wearing out, slowing down, or weakening of the heart as it loses its ability to pump properly. This weakening occurs over time and is caused by underlying conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease - also known as coronary artery disease or coronary heart disease.

The heart has two major functions: first, it’s the mechanism by which oxygen is delivered to the rest of the body. Without this vital delivery, key organs such as the brain or kidneys may suffer permanent damage. Left-sided heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to deliver all the oxygen necessary. Second, the heart must beat with enough pressure to deliver blood to the lungs to obtain oxygen. Right-sided heart failure occurs when the heart lacks sufficient pressure to deliver blood to the lungs to obtain oxygen. Heart failure can occur in either the right, left, or both sides of the heart. It’s more common to find that heart failure affects both sides of the heart.

Heart failure may affect children with congenital heart defects but it’s more common in adults. There are certain risk factors which may put you at greater risk of heart failure:
• Age : 65 years or older.
• Ethnicity: African Americans are at greater risk of heart failure than other races.
• Obesity: Extra weight puts additional stress on the heart making it more susceptible to heart failure.
• Gender: Heart failure is more common in men than women.
• Diseases/Conditions: Persons with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart failure.

Heart failure is an incurable condition so it’s important to take steps to reduce your risk. Maintaining a healthy diet, losing weight, smoking cessation, and regular exercise are all great ways to reduce your risk. Lifestyle changes not only reduce your long-term risk of developing heart failure, but have the added benefit of improving your health now.

What is Heart Failure?, January 2010, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Hf/HF_WhatIs.html

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.