Heart failure

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If you have high blood pressure, this means that your heart has to work harder to push blood round your body. To cope with this extra effort, your heart becomes thicker and stiffer, which makes it less able to do its job.

If your heart is not able to pump as well as it should, this is called heart failure. Heart failure can cause extra fluid to build up in the body, and can also cause an irregular heartbeat. It does not mean that your heart is about to stop working, but it is a serious condition.

What are symptoms of heart failure?

Most of the symptoms of heart failure are felt due to the build up of fluid in the body. Where the fluid builds up and the problems the build up can cause depend on which side of the heart is affected.

If the left side of the heart is affected, not enough blood is pumped round the body, which can leave you feeling tired. More blood is entering the lungs than your heart can remove and, as the fluid builds up, you may cough up frothy phlegm or feel breathless when lying down.

If the right side of the heart is affected, fluid builds up in the body instead, causing swollen feet, ankles and legs. Again, you may feel more tired than normal.

How is heart failure discovered?

Heart failure can be detected using a number of tests, including:

  • ECG (electrocardiogram): this test measures electrical signals in the heart, which can show if it is working properly.
  • Echocardiogram: this is a scan that can give very accurate pictures of the structures of the heart and how it is working.
  • Blood test: one specific test can trace the levels of a particular hormone in your blood. The more of this hormone that is found in your blood, the greater the amount of heart failure.

You may have one or more of these tests when you are first diagnosed with high blood pressure. This is to make sure that no damage was caused to your heart's muscles during the period that your blood pressure has not been controlled.

Can heart failure be treated?

Heart failure cannot be cured, but there are treatments available. It is important to find the cause of heart failure so that your doctor is not just treating the symptoms.

Some blood pressure medicines can help treat heart failure, for example diuretics can help to reduce fluid build up. ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers can also help.

Certain medicines called beta-blockers are often used, but these are usually different from the types that are used to treat high blood pressure. Other medicines can also be used.

You can help improve the health of your heart by making lifestyle changes - stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol, or being more active (it doesn’t need to be too energetic; walking every day will help your heart).

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