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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
- Excessive alcohol
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
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
- Nausea and loss of appetite
- Irregular heartbeat, high pulse, and palpitations
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
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