The heart is like delicate pump which supplies the body with a given amount of blood at certain pressures. This pressure is not the same on the right and left sides of the heart, but it is this very difference in pressure which must be maintained at a precise balance if the heart is to function properly. When some disease or malformation alters the balance, normal intake and outgo of blood is interrupted and the heart in not able to supply essential organs with the amount and quality of blood necessary. The resulting condition is called heart failure.
Symptoms. An early symptom of this disease is the inability of the kidneys to excrete salt properly. While the mechanism is not fully understood, it is believed that this kidney failure results, in part, from the diminished blood supply it receives.
A patient with this disease is sometimes subject to a sudden onset lung congestion known as acute pulmonary edema. He becomes very short of breath, or else he brings up frothy, pinkish sputum which is the sudden fluid accumulation in his lungs.
As the illness progresses, the heart failure patient will become more limited in his activities and will require more and more rest to avoid discomfort. Eventually he may have heart failure even when his body is completely at rest.
Complications. When the heart failure is caused by a condition that responds to medical or surgical treatment, much can be expected. For other patients, the outlook is chronic invalidism. These patients are susceptible to generalized and respiratory infections, lung infarcts (areas if the lung for which circulation is blocked and not functioning), and loss of kidney function.
Prevention. If the underlying cause is responsive to treatment, heart failure can be postponed or alleviated. When surgery is indicated, it should be done before heart failure develops. Patients with a history of endocarditis or a rheumatic heart should be on preventive, antibiotic drug program to help them avoid recurrent infections. Patients with coronary artery disease will be guided by the physician and may be put on anti-coagulant therapy. Thyroid heart disease responds to treatment and should be corrected.
Most cases of heart failure can be controlled for years with proper care by the patient under the guidance of the physician.