Heart failure — sometimes known as congestive heart failure — occurs when the heart muscle doesn't pump blood as well as it should. When this happens, blood often backs up and fluid can build up in the lungs, causing shortness of breath.
"The most recognized, the most common symptom of heart failure is breathlessness," says Dr. Gosia Wamil, a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare in London. "And the type of breathlessness that patients would describe most often is the inability to lie flat, waking up in the middle of the night or gasping for air."
Heart failure is often thought to be a disease of advanced age, but it can actually develop at any time in life. In many cases, heart failure can be prevented or treated if people are aware of the risk factors and warning signs.
Coronary artery disease is the main cause of heart failure. Stiffening of the heart muscle is mostly a result of poorly controlled hypertension or diabetes. Proper treatment can improve the signs and symptoms of heart failure and may help some people live longer. Lifestyle changes — such as losing weight, exercising, reducing salt (sodium) in your diet and managing stress — can improve your quality of life.
"All the risks of developing heart attack, if we reduce those risks, we improve their lifestyle," explains Dr. Wamil. "If we reduce the risk of diabetes, hypertension, stop smoking, this will reduce the risk of heart attacks, but at the same time, will reduce the risk of heart failure."
Dr. Wamil's research efforts include studies aimed at understanding the connection between diabetes and heart disease and using novel medical imaging techniques to identify heart failure early on. Other research underway at Mayo Clinic includes the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools to detect heart failure early.
"An area of research interest at Mayo Clinic is the use of large databases, such as randomized controlled trials, electronic health care records, and applying not only statistical methods but also AI, machine learning models and algorithms to try to identify how we can detect early signs of heart failure risks," explains Dr. Wamil.
On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Dr. Wamil, discusses warning signs of heart failure and advances in early detection of heart disease.
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