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Heart failure is quite frankly, a terrifying sounding condition. It is severe, but not as immediately drastic as it sounds. Put simply, heart failure is when the heart fails to pump as much blood as the body will need long-term. The heart works like a balloon, filling with blood and contracting to pump it out. Ejection fraction is a term used to describe the amount of blood pumped out compared with the total the heart can hold. In a normal heart, 50-70% of blood is ejected with each heartbeat. When this amount falls below 40%, a person has a reduced Ejection Fraction (the rEF of HFrEF). This is a serious condition.
The heart pumps blood to every cell in the body. This is how cells receive oxygen and nutrients, and how they get rid of waste products. Without enough blood, cells suffocate. Oxygen isn’t reaching cells and the brain interprets this as being short of breath. Common symptoms of HFrEF include:
- Difficulty breathing, especially when lying down or sleeping
- Inability to exercise
- Ankle swelling
Inside the body, doctors can also look for diagnostic markers. These may include structural changes to the heart and increased natriuretic peptides. Natriuretic peptides are hormones that regulate the amount of salt and water in the blood. They act as vasodilators, opening blood vessels which can be helpful in compensating for heart failure. The body attempts to compensate for the loss of oxygen and nutrients in the blood in many ways, but long term the body has trouble sustaining with heart failure.
Who is at risk of developing HFrEF? Unfortunately, it is more prevalent in the United States than almost anywhere else, affecting 6.5 million Americans each year. Risk factors include age, being male, obesity, and smoking. Additionally, other medical conditions increase your risk of developing Heart Failure with reduced Ejection Fraction. Previous heart attacks, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension are some associated conditions. All told, HFrEF leads to around a million hospitalizations every year, and being hospitalized for HFrEF comes with a low 5-year survival rate.
What can be done? There are several methods of dealing with a reduced ejection fraction. Some methods treat symptoms, such as diuretics, and others can help reduce mortality, such as beta-blockers. There are several other medications and even some implantable devices that can help with HFrEF. These can help improve your ejection fraction or health outcomes but are not yet a silver bullet. New medications with increased outcomes and fewer side effects are entering clinical trials and may help with the underlying condition. To learn more about current heart failure research options, call our office today.
Written by Benton Lowey-Ball, BS Behavioral Neuroscience
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Martinez-Rumayor, A., Richards, A. M., Burnett, J. C., & Januzzi Jr, J. L. (2008). Biology of the natriuretic peptides. The American journal of cardiology, 101(3), S3-S8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2007.11.012
Murphy, S. P., Ibrahim, N. E., & Januzzi, J. L. (2020). Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction: a review. Jama, 324(5), 488-504. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.10262