Your heart plays a vital role pumping blood through your body. So, when it begins to malfunction, the health of your entire body is affected.
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What Is Heart Failure?
Heart failure can occur due to a number of reasons:
- The ventricles in your heart, which are the chambers in charge of pumping blood throughout your body, can either become damaged, too stiff, or too weak to function properly. When this happens, your body does not receive all the blood it needs.
- To try to correct these problems, the chambers in your heart will expand and thicken in an effort to allow the heart to pump stronger. The heart also pumps at a faster rate to increase the amount of blood flow pumped through the body. This is a temporary solution, however, and eventually your heart failure will progress.
- As heart failure progresses, you may experience symptoms in other parts of your body that indicate your heart is no longer able to function properly.
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Effects of Heart Failure on Your Lungs and Kidneys
The lungs and kidneys play a big part in circulation. After your organs and tissues get the oxygen and nutrients they need, blood returns back to your heart, then travels to your lungs to collect oxygen before circulating back out to the rest of your body.
When your heart begins to weaken or stiffen and cannot properly pump blood, fluid begins to build up in your lungs and body.
When your kidneys do not receive their normal amount of oxygen-rich blood, they cannot properly cycle out excess water and waste, which results in swelling (called edema) in your ankles, feet, and legs.
Signs of fluid build-up include:
- Shortness of breath, especially during activity
- A wheezing cough, especially at night
- Waking up in the middle of the night short of breath
- Decrease in energy level or progressive fatigue
- Swelling in your abdomen or legs
- An abrupt increase in weight
Effects of Heart Failure on Heart Valves
- Your heart has four different valves that help blood flow forward. The valves must open fully and close tightly, to prevent blood from flowing backward.
- During heart failure, the valves can either narrow, causing blood to back up, or not close correctly, causing blood to flow backwards to the heart.
- Symptoms of heart valve problems include chest pain, lightheadedness, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, or have a history of heart problems in your family, make an appointment to visit UPMC’s Heart and Vascular Institute or visit one of our heart screening events in Pittsburgh for an evaluation.
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine.