By Sara Weiss, MD
Cardiologist and Heart Failure Specialist
Virginia Mason Hospital & Seattle Medical Center
According to the American Heart Association’s latest statistics, it affects 6.5 million Americans and is projected to increase 46 percent by 2030, resulting in more than 8 million people with the malady.
Unfortunately, though, this common condition was given one of the most misleading names in medicine – “heart failure.”
Heart failure does not mean the heart has failed and is no longer working. It simply means the heart’s pumping power is weaker than normal.
With heart failure, blood moves through the heart and body at a lesser rate, and pressure in the heart increases. As a result, the heart cannot pump enough oxygen and nutrients to meet the body’s needs.
The chambers of the heart may respond by stretching to hold more blood or by becoming stiff and thickened. This helps keep blood moving, but the heart muscle walls may eventually weaken and pump less efficiently.
As a result, the kidneys may respond by retaining fluid and salt. If fluid builds up in the arms, legs, ankles, feet, lungs or other organs, the body becomes congested – thus the term “congestive heart failure.”