Systolic heart failure

Can Systolic Heart Failure Cause Breathing Problems?

A healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of developing heart disease as you get older, but even the healthiest of us may still experience heart problems. In this post we answer the question, “can systolic heart failure cause breathing problems?

What Are the Different Sections of the Heart?

systolic heart failure - heart parts chart

The Four Chambers of the Heart

The heart is divided into four chambers with four valves that circulate the blood around the body. The upper right atrium is the chamber that receives the blood from the veins and then pumps it out to the right ventricle.

The right ventricle is the chamber that receives blood from the upper right atrium and pumps it to the lungs. The blood receives oxygen from the lungs.

The upper left atrium is the chamber of the heart that receives the oxygenated blood from the lungs and then pumps it out to the left ventricle.

The hard-working left ventricle is the strongest as it has to pump the oxygenated blood out to the tissue in the rest of the body.

The Four Valves of the Heart

The four heart valves carry the blood around the heart and out into the body tissue. The valves consist of:

  • The tricuspid valve: this is the valve that closes off the upper right atrium which is the chamber that holds the blood that comes in from the body. It opens to allow the blood to flow from the upper right atrium into the lower right ventricle. It also prevents the blood from flowing back into the atrium when it leaves the ventricle.

  • The pulmonary valve: this valve closes off the lower right ventricle and opens to allow the blood to be pumped from the heart into the lungs to receive oxygen. In this process, the blood runs through the pulmonary artery.

  • The mitral valve: this is the valve that closes off the upper left atrium that collects the oxygenated blood from the lungs. It opens to allow the blood to flow from the upper left atrium to the lower left ventricle.

  • The aortic valve: this is the valve that closes off the lower left chamber which holds the oxygenated blood until it is pumped out to the body. It also opens to allow the blood to leave the left ventricle and flow into he body.

For the whole system to work properly, the four valves must all be flexible and properly formed. They must open fully so that the blood can flow through unobstructed and close tightly so that the blood can’t flow back into the chamber it previously left.

What is Systolic Heart Failure?

systolic heart failure - heart animated image

Systolic heart failure is a condition that occurs when the left ventricle has weakened.

This usually occurs because the lower left chamber has become enlarged which means it can’t contract enough to allow blood to flow through the heart and body as it should.

Symptoms of Systolic Heart Failure

Although everybody is different, the most common symptoms of systolic heart failure include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue, tiredness, or weakness
  • Swelling in the feet, abdomen, legs, and/or ankles
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Irregular or fast heartbeat
  • Increased urination during the night
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Causes of Systolic Heart Failure

    Determining the cause of systolic heart failure is an important step in creating an effective treatment plan.

    High blood pressure is a condition that forces your heart to work harder. As it’s a muscle, it gets thicker and struggles to pump the blood around your body.

    Coronary artery disease is a build up of plaque in the coronary arteries. This means that the arteries are no longer wide enough for the blood to pass through easily.

    Cardiomyopathy is used to describe a condition where the heart muscle is damaged to the point where it cannot pump the blood through your system as usual. There are different types of cardiomyopathy and each type can have different causes.

    Heart valve problems can occur when the valves aren’t able to open or close properly. Again, the heart has to work harder to perform its normal function.

    Is Systolic Heart Failure the Same as Congestive Heart Failure?

    systolic heart failure - a person drawing a heart

    Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, there are some distinctions. Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) is a life-threatening condition and if you suspect you or a loved one have it, you should seek medical attention immediately.

    CHF occurs when fluid builds up around the heart and it can no longer function properly. Fluid can back up at any point of the circulatory system and can store in the lungs, liver, abdomen and lower body.

    CHF is a progressive condition and more symptoms develop as the person moves through the stages, but symptoms can range from fatigue and shortness of breath through to chest pain and rapid breathing and skin becoming blue.

    Systolic and Diastolic Heart Failure

    Systolic heart failure occurs when the lower left ventricle can no longer contract. Diastolic heart failure occurs when the muscle in the lower left ventricle becomes stiff and can no longer relax. Both mean that the ability of the heart to pump blood through the body is limited.

    Systolic Heart Failure and Breathing Problems

    systolic heart failure - lungs image animated

    Unidentified breathing problems should always be taken seriously and if you are suffering from shortness of breath you should seek medical advice. Often the cause is easily identifiable and easily cured however, breathing difficulties can be a sign of heart problems.

    Congestive heart failure, including systolic and diastolic conditions can often cause shortness of breath and feelings of being extremely tired.

    These symptoms may be accompanied by swelling in your feet, ankles, legs, and abdomen. These symptoms often mean that your heart has weakened, and blood is not pumping through your system as it should.

    Congestive heart failure moves through stage and at first you may notice that you have breathing problems after exercise and activities such as getting dressed or walking across a room. Your Doctor may be able to prescribe medications and treatments that can help, so make an appointment as soon as possible.

    Diagnosis of Systolic Heart Failure

    systolic heart failure - heart icon

    To diagnose systolic heart failure your Doctor will ask you questions about your own and family members medical history, will examine you, and possibly recommend further tests.

    Blood test results can show if there are any abnormal substances in your body that may be putting a strain on your organs because of heart failure. An electrocardiogram (EKG) can show any problems you may be having with the electrical impulses in your heart.

    Your Doctor may suggest a chest -ray be performed. This will show any congestion around your heart or if it is enlarged. An Echocardiogram takes a video image of your heart using sound waves.

    One of the more common tests for systolic heart failure is an exercise, or stress, test. This will show how well your heart manages any extra stress that is placed on it. A heart catheterization will show blockages and weakened arteries and is conducted by injecting dye into a blood vessel through a small tube.

    Treatment of Systolic Heart Failure

    Although there is no cure for systolic heart failure there are some things you can do that will help to ease your symptoms.

    Your Doctor will suggest lifestyle changes such as losing weight and switching to a diet that promotes a healthy heart. Exercising and giving up cigarette smoking will also be suggested.

    Some medications will help including diuretics to ease swelling, ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure and widen your blood vessels, or beta-blockers to lower blood pressure and slow your heart rate down.

    Hydralazine and Nitrate may be subscribed as these two drugs work together to relax and open your blood vessels. Digoxin helps the heart pump harder and easier and a mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist will help to reduce any extra salt or fluid in the body.

    In severe cases, surgery may be necessary. There are several minor procedures that can be done or devices such as a defibrillator can be implanted. A heart transplant may also be suggested.


    How to Lower Your Risk of Developing Systolic Heart Failure

    systolic heart failure - stop smoking sign

    A low-fat diet and a healthy lifestyle are the best ways to lower your risk of systolic heart failure and other serious conditions. Avoiding cigarettes and excessive amounts of alcohol will also help.

    If you have any concerns about the health of your heart, or if any symptoms appear suddenly, your best course of action is to visit your Doctor or health professional.

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