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Heart failure develops when the heart as a pump malfunctions. Systolic heart failure is the inability of the heart to squeeze enough blood from the ventricles (heart chambers) to supply the body's needs. Diastolic heart failure results from the inability of the heart muscle to relax in between heartbeats, causing a backup of blood in the heart's chambers and in the blood vessels. Both systolic and diastolic heart failure can cause edema (fluid) to build up in the lungs and the rest of the body. The heart tries to make up for this malfunction by dilating (enlarging the heart chambers) or becoming hypertrophic (thickening of the heart walls). For individuals older than 65 years, heart failure is the most common cause of hospitalization. The May 13, 2009, issue of JAMA contains an article about heart failure.
A detailed medical history and physical examination often reveal whether a person has heart failure. Testing may include a chest x-ray to look for cardiomegaly (an enlarged heart), pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), or pleural effusion (collection of fluid around the lungs). Other tests commonly include an electrocardiogram (tracing of the heart rhythm) and an echocardiogram (ultrasound examination showing the heart structures and function of heart valves).
Treating heart failure depends on the reasons why heart failure developed. It is important to work with your doctor to find the best treatment plan, including an exercise program.
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page Index on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. Many are available in English and Spanish. A previous Patient Page on heart failure was published in the June 13, 2007, issue; one on implantable cardioverter-defibrillators was published in the May 2, 2007, issue; and one on cardiac stress testing was published in the October 15, 2008, issue.
Sources: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; American Heart Association
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.
TOPIC: HEART DISEASE
Torpy JM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Heart Failure. JAMA. 2009;301(18):1950. doi:10.1001/jama.301.18.1950
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