Initially, only the performance under heavy physical exercise is limited, later breathing becomes difficult even at rest. The ankles swell, the night's sleep is disturbed by constant toilets. About two to three million Germans know the symptoms of chronic heart failure from their own painful experience.
The meaning of the heart muscle
The heart is a hollow muscle and, with its lifelong, long-lasting pumping power, the circulation motor. It depends on the power of the muscles of the heart, how effectively the cardiovascular system works and how well it can adapt to physical stress. If the heart muscle can no longer contract sufficiently, the cardiac output no longer meets the requirements - first with special effort, later even the pumping power at rest can only be handled with difficulty.
Chronic heart failure is among the most common diseases in Western nations; In terms of causes of death, it ranks third in Germany - after coronary heart disease (CHD) and myocardial infarction and lung cancer.
Constant overload of the heart
Basically, like other muscles, the heart can be trained by regular use and thus become more efficient. Physical stress, which is related to the increase of blood pressure and heart rate, demands and promotes the heart muscle. But: Chronic overstretching of the heart muscle, as it can happen in certain diseases, exceeds its adaptability in the long run. The body tries to regulate the cardiac output so that all organs are adequately supplied.
But it's like a weak engine driving a heavy car - it slows down on every climb. Then the driver has to shift down a gear and drive at higher speeds to be able to climb the mountain at all. But in the long term, high-speed driving damages the engine and the performance continues to decline. Transferring to the heart means: It beats faster, the blood pressure increases, so more blood can be transported per heartbeat.
Early detection is important
If this excessive demand persists, the heart is damaged even more and can do even less than before. The heartbeat is increased even more to better care for the organs. This enlarges the heart muscle and weakens it even more.
Once under way, this vicious circle is hard to stop. Therefore, it is important to counteract a beginning cardiac insufficiency as early as possible and to strengthen the heart again.
Causes of Heart Failure
A distinction is made between primary heart failure, which is the basis of an independent, usually genetic disease of the heart muscle itself, and secondary heart failure, in which the limited pumping capacity develops as a result of chronic overloading of the healthy heart.
Various diseases can affect the heart muscle strength. These include congenital anomalies of the cardiovascular system, chronic circulatory disorders in coronary heart disease, long-term effects of heart valve damage and myocardial diseases such as dilated cardiomyopathy, an expansion of the ventricle, which may occur, among other things, as a result of myocarditis.
But also chronic hypertension or chronic alcohol abuse, hormonal disorders (for example, in diseases of the thyroid gland), diseases of the kidney or lungs and a chronic anemia can lead to heart failure.