Heart failure, a silent killer

More people die each year from heart failure than from conditions such as colon, breast and prostate cancer combined. Yet many people do not view heart failure as a serious life-threatening disease. After all, one does not notice much of the disease in the beginning and, as a result, it is not always recognized in time. And if the complaints do manifest, it is usually too late. Heart failure is often referred to as a condition in which the heart’s ability to squeeze is inadequate. But that is too simple a representation that needs nuance. So what about?

Table of contents

  • How does the heart work?
  • Systolic heart failure
  • Diastolic heart failure
  • Our body can compensate for heart failure
  • Heart failure is often a direct consequence of an acute myocardial infarction.
  • Rules for people with heart failure

How does the heart work?

The heart’s main job is to pump blood. This action takes place in two stages:

  • the moment the ventricles relax and fill with blood (diastole);
  • the moment when the heart muscle contracts (systole) and the blood is pumped out.

Heart failure therefore also manifests itself in two forms: diastolic and systolic heart failure.

Systolic heart failure

Systolic heart failure is mainly characterized by reduced contractile force of the heart. This is often the case after an acute myocardial infarction. The contraction of the heart muscle then becomes less forceful and less blood is diverted away. The heart of healthy people pumps 50 percent or more of the blood. In systolic heart failure, 45 percent is usually not achieved.

Diastolic heart failure

In diastolic heart failure, however, there is a problem with the filling of the heart. The heart muscle is no longer elastic and does not relax enough in the resting phase. As a result, the heart chambers do not dilate sufficiently and do not fill enough with blood. Diastolic heart failure therefore does not involve reduced squeezing capacity. The heart continues to pump 50 percent or more of the available blood.

Our body can compensate for heart failure

In heart failure, the heart can no longer supply the body with sufficient oxygen and nutrients. But the human organism does have a number of techniques that can compensate for this shortcoming. For example, a higher heart rate can help the heart pump more blood again. There is also increased fluid retention: the blood vessels remain better filled. And when those blood vessels contain more fluid, the heart is able to pump better. The disadvantage is that these compensatory techniques require more effort from the heart. It is taxed more heavily. Over time the pump function will decrease again.

Heart failure is often a direct consequence of an acute myocardial infarction.

Many patients develop heart failure immediately after a heart attack due to a narrowing of the coronary arteries. In approximately 70% of cases this is the direct cause. As a result of the myocardial infarction, heart cells die, damaging heart function. But other conditions such as valve abnormalities and cardiac arrhythmias can also place too much strain on the heart.

Rules for people with heart failure

Once the diagnosis of heart failure has been made, there are four important rules of life for the patient:

  • low-salt food;
  • limit fluid intake;
  • on the scale every day;
  • taking the medication punctually (‘therapy compliance’).

Punctual intake of medications

Patients with heart failure are known to not always take their medications accurately. Diuretics (water pills) in particular often suffer. This is being done on a large scale because people are afraid that they will not be able to make it to the toilet outside their home. Because if you insist, you have to, otherwise you will be too late. However, punctual intake is a dire necessity for people with heart failure.