Cardiac insufficiency

Weakness of the heart muscle (cardiac insufficiency) can have many causes. Symptoms such as shortness of breath, fluid retention in the legs and a deterioration of physical performance can occur suddenly or gradually over a longer period of time.

Overview

Weakness of the heart muscle (cardiac insufficiency) can have many causes. Symptoms such as shortness of breath, fluid retention in the legs and a deterioration of physical performance can occur suddenly or gradually over a longer period of time. A healthy lifestyle with exercise, no smoking and a healthy diet can have a preventive effect.

Symptoms

Main symptoms

  • Shortness of breath, fast breathing
  • Coughing (mostly at night)
  • Weakness, deterioration of physical performance
  • Fluid retention in the legs (oedema)

Other symptoms

  • Increased urination at night
  • Elevated pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fluid in the abdomen (ascites)

Causes and treatment

Causes

Acute (develops within hours / days)
Chronic (develops slowly over months / years)

Classes of severity

  • NYHA stage 1
    • Cardiac insufficiency can be diagnosed with medical tests, but the person has no symptoms (yet).
  • NYHA stage 2
    • Mild symptoms during ordinary activity (e.g. feeling weak when climbing stairs)
  • NYHA stage 3
    • Marked limitation in activity due to symptoms (e.g. getting out of bed)
  • NYHA stage 4
    • Symptoms such as shortness of breath even while at rest

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • ECG
  • Heart ultrasound (echocardiogram)
  • Ergometry (cardiac stress test on a treadmill or stationary bicycle)
  • Blood test (“cardio levels”)
  • Chest x-ray
  • Cardio MRI (special magnetic resonance imaging of the heart)
Possible therapies
  • Treatment of an underlying cause (e.g. high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia, etc.)
  • Medication (e.g. diuretic pills)
  • Bypass or stent operation for coronary artery sclerosis
  • Heart transplant (rarely)

What can I do myself?

  • Follow a healthy diet (e.g. Mediterranean diet)
  • Regular exercise
  • Reduce overweight
  • Stop smoking
  • Slightly elevate the head of the bed (or use extra pillows)

When to see a doctor?

  • Growing deterioration of physical performance
  • Growing shortness of breath
  • Fluid retention in the legs that doesn’t go away

Further information

Schweizerische Herzstiftung (Swiss Heart Foundation)
www.swissheart.ch

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CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

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