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When EMTs arrive on the scene of an emergency, they have to remember their ABCs. These are Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. The absolute top priority for any patient is to ensure they have an open airway to breathe, that air is entering the lungs, and that the heart is pumping blood to the brain and other organs. This is also the most important thing our body does in daily life as well. We can go weeks without food, days without water, hours without ice cream, and minutes without oxygen.

In order to get oxygen from the lungs to our brain and organs, we rely on one of the most remarkable organs in our body: the heart. The heart pumps automatically, nonstop, 24/7, from womb to grave. It consists of four chambers, two on top, and two on the bottom. Each heartbeat pulls blood into the top two chambers and pumps it out of the bottom two. The bottom two are more muscular and do the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, the heart can deteriorate and lead to heart failure. 

Heart failure is a condition where the heart can’t pump well enough to deliver oxygen to the organs effectively. The heart is still pumping, but organs are not receiving enough oxygen to function. This is not good. Heart failure affects over six million Americans and ten times as many people worldwide. Risk factors for heart failure include:

  • Heart disease, including Coronary Artery Disease
  • High Blood pressure
  • Tobacco
  • Excessive alcohol
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Heart failure has several signs and symptoms. Some of the most consistent are edema and shortness of breath. Edema is fluid trapped in the body’s tissues and most often pools in the lower extremities and the abdomen. Shortness of breath is due to the heart failing to deliver enough oxygen. This is particularly prevalent when trying to do activities or when lying down. Shortness of breath can keep patients from exercising or sleeping, which only exacerbates problems. Patients who have limited exercise in their routine may not be aware of progressive difficulty, masking this important symptom.

Other symptoms can be broad and nonspecific. They include:

  • Sudden weight gain
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Lightheadedness and fainting
  • Depression
  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Irregular heartbeat, high pulse, and palpitations
  • Fatigue

If you have heart failure and find yourself experiencing several of these conditions simultaneously, especially with edema and shortness of breath, we urge you to contact your physician immediately. Additionally, you may want to keep track of your level of fatigue because this symptom increases as the heart failure progresses. The excellent news is that new and exciting monitoring devices are currently being developed to help patients manage their heart failure and determine if their condition is deteriorating.

Check out clinical research options available to you with ENCORE Research Group on our enrolling studies page. 

By Benton Lowey-Ball, BS Behavioral Neuroscience



Sources:

Albert, N., Trochelman, K., Li, J., & Lin, S. (2010). Signs and symptoms of heart failure: are you asking the right questions?. American Journal of Critical Care, 19(5), 443-452. https://doi.org/ajcc2009314

Groenewegen, A., Rutten, F. H., Mosterd, A., & Hoes, A. W. (2020). Epidemiology of heart failure. European journal of heart failure, 22(8), 1342-1356. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejhf.1858

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (October 14, 2022). Heart failure  https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/heart_failure.htm


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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:

  • Fatigue
  • 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



Bloom, M. W., Greenberg, B., Jaarsma, T., Januzzi, J. L., Lam, C. S., Maggioni, A. P., … & Butler, J. (2017). Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction. Nature reviews Disease primers, 3(1), 1-19. https://www.nature.com/articles/nrdp201758

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


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