Efining “heart failure”
D“Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood out of the heart, and either through leakage of the valves or the heart not squeezing normally, the condition raises the pressure in the lungs,” says Winston Gandy, M.D., a cardiologist at Piedmont Hospital. “This creates a sensation of shortness of breath.” Dr. Gandy says that “heart failure” does not necessarily mean the heart is failing; it is rather a constellation of symptoms that cause the heart to not pump as well as it should.
Systolic vs. Diastolic Function of the Heart
“The squeezing component [of heart function] is the systolic function and the relaxing component is the diastolic function,” says Dr. Gandy. To determine a person’s blood pressure, physicians look at both of these functions. “When the heart squeezes, that will generate the top number, when the heart relaxes, that will result in the bottom number.”
A study from the Cleveland Clinic looked at outpatients who had echocardiograms, or ultrasound imaging of the heart, for various reasons. “Researchers looked at the flow patterns when the heart’s pumping chamber was being filled,” says Dr. Gandy. “What they noticed was a certain pattern that they termed ‘diastolic dysfunction.’ It turned out that a large group of individuals, the majority of patients, have some type of abnormality with that inflow.” In this particular study, in those patients who had moderate and severe diastolic dysfunction, there was an increase in the incidence of heart failure events.
Who is at risk for diastolic dysfunction?
“Those with longstanding high blood pressure are at risk,” says Dr. Gandy. Patients who suffer from coronary heart disease are also at risk, as are some diabetics because they can experience diffused disease that causes scaring in the heart over time.