The impact of heart failure on life
Around four million people in Germany are affected by chronic heart failure. Heart failure is often the result of a heart attack and permanently reduces the performance of the heart. Specialists and one person affected explain the massive impact this widespread disease has on life.
The heart attack came silently and yet was palpable. However, this only became clear to Günter Marx afterwards, after his life was turned upside down a good year ago. “At the end of September and beginning of October, I noticed that I was getting weaker and weaker when pedaling,” the pensioner remembers the fall of 2019. Marx, who was 82 at the time, cycled 20 to 30 kilometers on a beautiful day. But that got worse and worse.
“I could hardly breathe at night”
He also woke up more and more often at night and could hardly breathe, says Marx. “Finally I went to the family doctor because I wanted to know why I was so tired.” Günter Marx remembers the date exactly: November 5th. The family doctor sent him to the cardiologist, who sent him to the hospital. There he was placed six stents. These are small vascular supports that keep narrowed blood vessels open.
The silent heart attack
Marx had what medical professionals call a silent heart attack. This does not manifest itself through typical heart attack symptoms such as severe chest pain, but more subtle, for example through a feeling of weakness and shortness of breath. It is often only recognized after months or even years. Marx has now gone through rehab, a defibrillator has been used and he has to take strong medication. “I have a weak heart now,” he says. According to estimates, this makes him one in three to four million people in Germany, and more than 40,000 die from it every year in this country.
Coronary artery disease and high blood pressure are often triggers
Heart failure, also known as heart failure, can have various triggers – coronary artery disease and high blood pressure are particularly common. “If a heart attack is overlooked or not noticed, it can lead to heart failure,” says cardiologist David Niederseer from the University Hospital Zurich.
Heart failure can take two forms
The tricky thing about heart failure is that it often begins so insidiously. Breathing problems when climbing stairs and other forms of poor performance, as well as feet and lower legs swollen from stored fluid, are among the first signs. Heart failure means that the heart can no longer do what the body demands in terms of blood and oxygen supply, explains Prof. Heribert Schunkert from the board of directors of the German Heart Foundation.
Systolic and diastolic heart failure
Doctors differentiate between two forms: The heart may lack the strength to pump sufficient blood into the circulation. Then one speaks of the systolic heart failure. Or the heart muscle lacks elasticity to absorb enough blood. This is diastolic heart failure. “One is a problem with the beating of the heart, the other with the relaxation of the heart,” says Schunkert.
Start therapy early
If the pumping capacity is restricted, there are a number of medications that prevent further damage to the heart muscle. They should be used as early as possible, advises Schunkert. So even if patients may not yet feel restricted in their performance.
For the diastolic heart failure, i.e. the decreasing elasticity of the heart muscle, there are still no good drugs, according to Schunkert. At least the symptoms could usually be alleviated well. In addition, the main cause of diastolic heart failure, high blood pressure, can be treated well.
Appropriate endurance and strength training also helps the heart muscle to remain elastic and those affected to increase resilience, says the director of the clinic for adult cardiology at the German Heart Center in Munich.
Known risk factors
Since heart failure is often a secondary disease, the risk factors are the same as for high blood pressure or coronary artery disease. Smoking is one of them, as is high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes. According to Schunkert, people can be predisposed to the diseases. “Whether you develop this depends largely on your lifestyle.”
What concerns Günter Marx: “I have done EKGs so often, nothing has ever been found.” Can it be that an EKG is normal in the case of a heart failure? Not really, says cardiologist Niederseer. The recordings of the electrocardiogram, as the EKG is written out, are not always so clear.
The importance of EKG and ultrasound
Niederseer explains: “Heart failure patients always have a change in the EKG, but they are not as specific as the EKG image in a heart attack.” “There are abnormalities and you have to specify them with an ultrasound. As a rule, you should clarify every suspicious EKG. ”Heribert Schunkert also emphasizes the importance of ultrasound. “It is the most informative examination to determine cardiac insufficiency.”
How someone lives with a weak heart cannot be estimated from the measurements of the pumping power alone. Two patients can have the same values and yet be impaired differently, says Schunkert. There are enough possible explanations for this. One is that other organs, such as the kidney, work better.
Kidney disease makes heart failure more problematic
If kidney disease is added to heart failure, it is problematic for several reasons, explains the cardiologist. Because a disruption of the water balance plays a central role in heart failure. “In addition to the heart, the kidney is the main organ that regulates the water balance. If both organs become weak, the problems add up. “(Vb / source: Tom Nebe, dpa)
Author and source information
This article is for general guidance only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. He can not substitute a visit at the doctor.