Heart failure is the silent killer you've been ignoring

Nearly 8-10 million people are suffering from heart failure in India and what makes matters worse is that nearly a quarter of these patients succumb to it within a year of diagnosis Now, we aren’t trying to scare you, but rather, want to make you aware of this silent killer. We all know about the importance of heart health. We exercise, eat a balanced diet, and hope that we’ll be fine. These efforts are indeed effective - if you want to prevent a heart attack. But heart attacks and heart failure aren’t the same thing. While a healthy lifestyle is also key to preventing heart failure, there’s more to this illness that you need to be aware of.
Heart failure is not the same as a heart attack
A common myth is that heart failure and heart attacks are the same illness. That’s not true. While they are related, and heart attacks can lead to heart failure, there are key differences between them.

Most heart attacks occur when the flow of blood to the heart gets blocked, which in turn, leads to oxygen deprivation in the heart. Without oxygen, the heart starts failing. Heart attacks are often caused by arterial plaque that breaks off and causes blockage. That’s why a healthy diet - with less cholesterol - that reduces the chances of plaque build-up, is often your first line of defence against heart attacks. Now let us understand heart failure.

What is heart failure? 4

Heart failure is a term used to describe the gradual weakening of the heart. In such cases, the heart gets weaker over time, and is unable to pump blood as effectively as it used to. As it gets weaker, it impacts other areas of your body, and a time may come when your heart just stops pumping blood. As heart failure progresses, it gives rise to several symptoms (more on this later) as your body tried to cope. Eventually, the damage gets too much for the body to repair or live with.

Heart failure can be of two types - chronic, where there is an ongoing problem, and acute, where the symptoms come on suddenly, and then might even go away. Heart failure can also affect either side of the heart, or both.

What causes heart failure? 5
There are many causes that lead to heart failure. Risk factors include unhealthy diets, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, tobacco use, viral inflammation, abnormal or irregular heart rhythms, faulty valves, congenital heart defects, excessive alcohol intake, drug abuse and exposure to toxins, constant exposure to high levels of air pollution, stress, sleep apnea and snoring, high blood pressure… Even other chronic diseases such as diabetes have been known to increase the chances of heart failure.

As you can see, what also makes heart failure so dangerous - apart from the often slow emergence of symptoms - is that multiple causes can be at work at the same time. Our modern-day high-stress lifestyles have made us especially prone to heart failure.

What are the symptoms of heart failure? 6

As heart failure is often a chronic disease that develops slowly over time, it’s important for those at risk to keep an eye out for symptoms such as:

  • Shortness of breath during exertion or while lying down. This happens due to the collection of fluid in the lungs
  • Swollen ankles: Heart disease is often accompanied by the collection of fluid around the ankles and legs
  • Chronic fatigue: As there’s less blood circulating in your body, you tend to feel tired sooner or even all the time. A decline in lung function due to fluid collection may exacerbate this.
  • Loss of appetite: A lowered appetite often accompanies other symptoms of heart failure
  • Sudden gain in weight: Fluid build-up can worsen and lead to rapid increases in body weight
  • Lower frequency of urination: Poor blood circulation makes the kidneys less effective
  • Racing heart: Patients might experience rapid heartbeat as their heart tries to pump blood faster