Nearly 290,000 people die from heart failure each year. Nevertheless, although heart failure produces very high mortality rates, treatment advances are improving survival rates.
Cardiac Cachexia. If patients with heart failure are overweight to begin with, their condition tends to be more severe. Once heart failure develops, however, an important indicator of a worsening condition is the occurrence of cardiac cachexia, which is unintentional rapid weight loss (a loss of at least 7.5% of normal weight within 6 months).
Impaired Kidney Function. Heart failure weakens the heart’s ability to pump blood. This can affect other parts of the body including the kidneys (which in turn can lead to fluid build-up). Decreased kidney function is common in patients with heart failure, both as a complication of heart failure and other diseases associated with heart failure (such as diabetes). Studies suggest that, in patients with heart failure, impaired kidney function increases the risks for heart complications, including hospitalization and death.
Congestion (Fluid Buildup). In left-sided heart failure, fluid builds up first in the lungs, a condition called pulmonary edema. Later, as right-sided heart failure develops, fluid builds up in the legs, feet, and abdomen. Fluid buildup is treated with lifestyle measures, such as reducing salt in the diet, as well as drugs, such as diuretics.
Arrhythmias (Irregular Beatings of the Heart)
- Atrial fibrillation is a rapid quivering beat in the upper chambers of the heart. It is a major cause of stroke and very dangerous in people with heart failure.
- Left bundle-branch block is an abnormality in electrical conduction in the heart. It develops in about 30% of patients with heart failure.
- Ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation are life-threatening arryhthmias that can occur in patients when heart function is significantly impaired.
Angina and Heart Attacks. While coronary artery disease is a major cause of heart failure, patients with heart failure are at continued risk for angina and heart attacks. Special care should be taken with sudden and strenuous exertion, particularly snow shoveling, during colder months.
Review Date: 05/04/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.