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Causes of Heart Failure and How to Avoid it

Causes of Heart Failure and How to Avoid it

18:21 26th March 2018 | Heart Failure

Hypertension Dr. Okechukwu Ogah Heart Expert Consultant Cardiologist UCH Ibadan Heart Failure Heart Muscle Chronic Disease Blood Clots Medications Illness Lung Conditions Irregular HeartBeat ChestPain Severe Weakness Fainting Healthy Diet Exercise Salt Intake LifeStyle Improvement Exercising Check-Up Cholesterol High Blood Pressure

Heart failure, a growing global problem, has serious consequences in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In Nigeria, 45% of patients die from heart failure caused by untreated, abnormally high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

Dr Okechukwu Ogah is a heart expert and consultant cardiologist at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan. After revealing the above statistic from a heart failure survey he added that the “average age of a heart failure patient is 52.3 years, which is about 20 years younger than the average of patients with heart failure in Europe and American where it is essentially a problem of the elderly.”

Other leading causes of heart failure, identified in several studies from different regions of the country,  are cardiomyopathy and rheumatic heart diseases (RHDs).

What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure (HF), also known as congestive heart failure, is what happens when your heart muscle is unable to effectively distribute blood throughout the body, because it is too weak or too stiff to pump properly.

HF can be chronic (ongoing) or acute (start suddenly).

What Causes Heart Failure?

Certain conditions can weaken the heart muscle, while others can cause it to become too stiff. In both cases the damage can lead to heart failure. Sometimes you do not even experience obvious symptoms. Causes of heart failure include:

  • Faulty heart valves
  • Hypertension: high blood pressure
  • Cardiomyopathy: heart muscle damage
  • Heart arrhythmias: abnormal heart rhythms
  • Myocarditis: inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall
  • Coronary artery disease: blockage of one or more arteries that supply blood to the heart
  • Rheumatic heart disease (RHD): remaining damage to one or more heart valves after acute rheumatic fever (ARF)

OTHER CAUSES: Inflammation, infections, viruses that attack the heart muscle, alcohol abuse, drug use, genetic factors, congenital heart defects, chronic diseases (diabetes, HIV, hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism), hemochromatosis (iron overload), amyloidosis (buildup of protein), allergic reactions, blood clots in the lungs, certain medications or an illness that affects the whole body.

What Symptoms are Associated with Heart Failure?
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Urinating more at night
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Lack of appetite or nausea
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Swelling in legs, ankles and feet
  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath
  • Struggling to concentrate or less alert
  • Persistent cough or wheezing with phlegm
  • Chest pain (if HF is caused by a heart attack)
  • Fluid retention resulting in rapid weight gain
  • Phlegm that accompanies a persistent cough, wheezing or severe shortness of breath

Many of these symptoms are associated with other causes, often heart- and lung conditions.

NOTE: Don’t try to diagnose yourself. See a doctor immediately if you experience rapid or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, severe weakness or fainting, sudden and severe shortness of breath or a combination of the above.

If you have already been diagnosed with HF, but symptoms get worse or increase, you should seek medical help immediately.

Treating Heart Failure

Heart failure is seldom reversible, but there are treatments that can manage symptoms to prolong life and improve quality of life. Your condition needs to be monitored regularly by a healthcare professional.

Preventing Heart Failure

To avoid heart failure you need to eliminate or reduce risk factors. Make the following lifestyle improvements as soon as possible:

  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Quit (or do not start) smoking
  • If overweight or obese, lose weight
  • Consistently manage and reduce stress
  • Reduce your salt intake (many processed products are high in sodium)
  • Start exercising (or make sure you are doing enough of the right exercise)
  • Go for a check-up to know your numbers: BMI, blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol

By making these changes you can avoid many conditions and diseases (e.g. high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity) that lead to heart failure. Prescribed (or other) medications may be necessary to manage conditions that can cause heart failure.

Addressing High Blood Pressure in Nigeria

Death rates are high because many patients only show symptoms later, plus there is insufficient social support and many of those affected cannot buy their medications.

It is becoming apparent that hypertension (along with other non-transmissible diseases) should be prioritised at primary healthcare level to reduce fatalities. Identification and treatment is essential. This is a major priority for our Medicentres.

Take care of your heart and encourage loved ones to do the same. Together we can fight high blood pressure and heart failure, but we have to act soon.


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