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February 2011
Not Always Fatal
Dr. Krishnaswamy Subramanian
 
Heart Failure and its associations with death are not as close as you think they may be.

Did you know that out of 100 people who suffer from hypertension, only about 12 of them understand the seriousness of the problem and are aware that the condition can lead to heart failure? It’s a gloomy situation indeed, which has resulted from the fact that heart failure is an often grossly misunderstood term.

What Is Heart Failure?
The heart is a muscle that pumps blood to the rest of the body. It is in that sense, a machine. When a machine loses its efficiency, it’s a failure. That is what heart failure is. In this case, failure is when the heart can no longer pump blood the way it used to.

The heart’s efficiency is usually only 60 per cent. When the percentage of efficiency comes down to 50 or 40, it is medically referred to as heart failure. As is the case with most diseases, there are three kinds of heart failure - mild, moderate and severe.

Can Heart Failure Be Treated?
People often assume that heart failure signifies the end. In truth, it doesn’t.Mild and moderate cases of heart failure can usually be treated with medication and lifestyle changes.

It’s a fact that when your heart has a problem, by definition, it will cease to work properly. When diagnosed with heart disease, the impetus on each individual is to do what needs to be done to increase the heart efficiency – self-awareness and lifestyle alterations. When someone fractures a bone, all you need to do is put a cast on the affected area, rest the bone for a few weeks and the healing process begins. A heart however, doesn’t stop working even after its efficiency has gone down. This makes heart disease very tricky to handle.

Reasons for Heart Failure
Factors that cause heart failure apart from heart attacks (in some rare cases, viral infections), are:
Hypertension or high blood pressure: Patients usually aren’t even aware that they suffer from high BP, thus making it hard to detect. This delays the treatment, which almost always leads to a heart attack and the consequently inevitable heart failure. At some point or the other, according to expert studies, 90 per cent of all patients suffering from high BP will have heart failure, because they usually don’t opt for treatment. High BP is very much preventable if a person constantly monitors his/her health.

Diabetes:In a country like India, where the incidence of diabetes is so high, people who have not detected the problem stand to suffer a lot. Patients, whose tendency to diabetes is hereditary, should closely monitor their blood sugar levels in a bid to prevent heart failure. Sometimes patients with a chronic viral infection are prone to heart failure, as the infection may weaken their heart muscle, and thereby making their hearts vulnerable.

Treating Heart Failure
Mild to moderate heart failure patients can be medicated, to ensure that the quality of their day-to-day life is unaffected.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle and ensuring adequate medical care will ensure that patients diagnosed with heart failure can live normal lives.Constant care is imperative.

Heart Transplant
However, cases that go beyond these severity levels require treatment that is as drastic, like heart transplant. In some cases of heart failure, we install a three-valve pacemaker in the heart. In some instance, we may have to perform a heart transplant.

The trouble with heart transplant however, is that the procedure is expensive and the patient has to remain under constant medical supervision for his/her remaining lifespan. When a person undergoes a heart transplant, it is important to note that this person is getting back an earlier quality of life. By implanting a healthy and fully functioning heart, a person who could not climb stairs will, after a transplant, be able to resume a healthy lifestyle.

Though medical interventional treatments are available for patients, heart disease is avoidable. The best way to do so would be to prevent the problem before it occurs, especially if you are genetically prone to it. Preventive measures are obvious – a healthy lifestyle, eating in moderation, at least half-hour of physical activity/exercise every day and minimal alcohol consumption.
 
Dr. Krishnaswamy Subramanian is Sr.Consultant and Interventional Cardiologist at Apollo Hospitals, Chennai


    
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