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Heart failure

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a chronic progressive disease caused by the inability of the heart to perform its pumping function. The heart is no longer able to circulate enough blood through the body, and the body becomes breathless, enlarged, distended and loses its ability to circulate blood between the various organs. The disease is four times more common than the number of new cases of breast, uterine or colon cancer, and the life expectancy of sufferers is considerably reduced, earning it the nickname ‘heart cancer’. Symptoms may not appear until the disease has progressed for several years.

The causes

Heart failure can be caused by a number of factors, the two most common of which are coronary heart disease (especially following a heart attack) and high blood pressure. More generally, a poor lifestyle (sedentary lifestyle, unbalanced diet, alcohol, smoking) has a negative effect on the heart and can also lead to heart failure.

Main symptoms

In the beginning, heart failure can go unnoticed. At first, the signs appear during heavy exertion and then, as the disease worsens, the symptoms also appear during light exertion or even at rest. There are several symptoms that can occur at the same time or separately:

  • Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing on exertion and at rest
  • Swelling of the feet and ankles caused by fluid accumulation in the tissues
  • Constant fatigue, asthenia
  • Weight gain (due to fluid accumulation in the tissues)
  • Abdominal swelling, abdominal pain
  • Poorly supported supine position
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Accelerated or irregular heartbeats, palpitations
  • Decreased appetite

This pathology requires medical treatment as soon as possible. In the long term, the disease becomes disabling because beyond the symptoms it causes, it profoundly affects the psychological, social and emotional balance and threatens the life of patients. Indeed, this disease is fatal and has a poor prognosis.

The treatments

The best treatment for heart failure is, of course, prevention: regular physical activity, not eating too much salt, watching your weight. The other general advice on healthy living that applies to other cardiovascular diseases is also valid: limit smoking, alcohol, eat a balanced diet, etc. Once
the diagnosis has been made, different treatments will be offered to patients depending on the type of heart failure.
Chronic heart failure is mainly treated with medication. In some cases, it can also be treated with non-drug treatments such as pacemaker implantation for cardiac resynchronisation or, if necessary, with the implantation of internal defibrillators. In some cases of chronic heart failure, mechanical ventricular assistance or even heart transplantation may be considered.

In Belgium

Heart failure is very widespread in Belgium and one can even speak of an epidemic. If we look at the epidemiological figures, heart failure affects 200,000 Belgians and about forty new cases are detected every day (15,000 per year). Heart failure mainly affects people from the age of 65. It is estimated that 4% of the adult population suffers from it, 20% of whom are over 65 years old. Finally, heart failure is linked to an altered quality of life and a high rate of hospitalisation (first cause of hospitalisation in the over 65s).