Heart failure should not be confused with cardiac arrest (see Terminology, below). It can cause a large variety of symptoms (chiefly shortness of breath and ankle swelling) but some patients can be completely symptom free. Heart failure is often undiagnosed due to a lack of a universally agreed definition and challenges in definitive diagnosis, particularly in early stage. With appropriate therapy, heart failure can be managed in the majority of patients, but it is a potentially life threatening condition, and progressive disease is associated with an annual mortality of 10%. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65.
This may occur when the cardiac output is low (often termed "congestive heart failure").
In contrast, it may also occur when the body's requirements are increased, and demand outstrips what the heart can provide, (termed "high output cardiac failure") . This can occur in the context of severe anemia, beriberi (vitamin B1/thiamine deficiency), thyrotoxicosis, Paget's disease, arteriovenous fistulae or arteriovenous malformations.
Fluid overload is a common problem for people with heart failure, but is not synonymous with it. Patients with treated heart failure will often be euvolaemic (a term for normal fluid status), or more rarely, dehydrated.
Doctors use the word "acute" to mean of rapid onset, and "chronic" of long duration. Chronic heart failure is therefore a long term situation, usually with stable treated symptomatology. Acute Heart failure, which should just describe sudden onset HF, is also used to describe exacerbated or decompensated heart failure, referring to episodes in which a patient with known chronic heart failure abruptly develops symptoms.
There are several terms which are closely related to heart failure, and may be the cause of heart failure, but should not be confused with it:
Functional classification generally relies on the New York Heart Association Functional Classification. The classes (I-IV) are:
This score documents severity of symptoms, and can be used to assess response to treatment. While its use is widespread, the NYHA score is not very reproducible and doesn't reliably predict the walking distance or exercise tolerance on formal testing.
The ACC staging system is useful in that Stage A encompasses "pre-heart failure" - a stage where intervention with treatment can presumably prevent progression to overt symptoms. ACC stage A does not have a corresponding NYHA class. ACC Stage B would correspond to NYHA Class I. ACC Stage C corresponds to NYHA Class II and III, while ACC Stage D overlaps with NYHA Class IV.
Left sided forward failure overlaps with right sided backward failure. Additionally, the most common cause of right-sided heart failure is left-sided heart failure. The result is that patients commonly present with both sets of signs and symptoms. The division is still however commonly taught to health professionals.
Additional signs indicating left ventricular failure include a laterally displaced apex beat (which occurs if the heart is enlarged) and a gallop rhythm (additional heart sounds) may be heard as a marker of increased blood flow, or increased intra-cardiac pressure. Heart murmurs may indicate the presence of valvular heart disease, either as a cause (e.g. aortic stenosis) or as a result (e.g. mitral regurgitation) of the heart failure.
A 19 year study of 13000 healthy adults in the United States (the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES I) found the following causes ranked by Population Attributable Risk score:
An Italian registry of over 6200 patients with heart failure showed the following underlying causes:
Rarer causes of heart failure include:
Obstructive Sleep Apnea a condition of sleep disordered breathing overlaps with obesity, hypertension and diabetes and is regarded as an independent cause of heart failure.
Heart failure is caused by any condition which reduces the efficiency of the myocardium, or heart muscle, through damage or overloading. As such, it can be caused by as diverse an array of conditions as myocardial infarction (in which the heart muscle is starved of oxygen and dies), hypertension (which increases the force of contraction needed to pump blood) and amyloidosis (in which protein is deposited in the heart muscle, causing it to stiffen). Over time these increases in workload will produce changes to the heart itself:
The general effect is one of reduced cardiac output and increased strain on the heart. This increases the risk of cardiac arrest (specifically due to ventricular dysrhythmias), and reduces blood supply to the rest of the body. In chronic disease the reduced cardiac output causes a number of changes in the rest of the body, some of which are physiological compensations, some of which are part of the disease process:
The increased peripheral resistance and greater blood volume place further strain on the heart and accelerates the process of damage to the myocardium. Vasoconstriction and fluid retention produce an increased hydrostatic pressure in the capillaries. This shifts of the balance of forces in favour of interstitial fluid formation as the increased pressure forces additional fluid out of the blood, into the tissue. This results in edema (fluid build-up) in the tissues. In right-sided heart failure this commonly starts in the ankles where venous pressure is high due to the effects of gravity (although if the patient is bed-ridden, fluid accumulation may begin in the sacral region.) It may also occur in the abdominal cavity, where the fluid build-up is called ascites. In left-sided heart failure edema can occur in the lungs - this is called cardiogenic pulmonary oedema. This reduces spare capacity for ventilation, causes stiffening of the lungs and reduces the efficiency of gas exchange by increasing the distance between the air and the blood. The consequences of this are shortness of breath, orthopnoea and paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea.
The symptoms of heart failure are largely determined by which side of the heart fails. The left side pumps blood into the systemic circulation, whilst the right side pumps blood into the pulmonary circulation. Whilst left-sided heart failure will reduce cardiac output to the systemic circultion, the initial symptoms often manifest due to effects on the pulmonary circulation. In systolic dysfunction, the ejection fraction is decreased, leaving an abnormally elevated volume of blood in the left ventricle. In diastolic dysfunction, end-diastolic ventricular pressure will be high. This increase in volume or pressure backs up to the left atrium and then to the pulmonary veins. Increased volume or pressure in the pulmonary veins impairs the normal drainage of the alveoli and favors the flow of fluid from the capillaries to the lung parenchyma, causing pulmonary edema. This impairs gas exchange. Thus, left-sided heart failure often presents with respiratory symptoms: shortness of breath, orthopnea and paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea.
In severe cardiomyopathy, the effects of decreased cardiac output and poor perfusion become more apparent, and patients will manifest with cold and clammy extremities, cyanosis, claudication, generalized weakness, dizziness, and syncope
The resultant hypoxia caused by pulmonary edema causes vasoconstriction in the pulmonary circulation, which results in pulmonary hypertension. Since the right ventricle generates far lower pressures than the left ventricle (approximately 20 mmHg versus around 120 mmHg, respectively, in the healthy individual) but nonetheless generates cardiac output exactly equal to the left ventricle, this means that a small increase in pulmonary vascular resistance causes a large increase in amount of work the right ventricle must perform. However, the main mechanism by which left-sided heart failure causes right-sided heart failure is actually not well understood. Some theories invoke mechanisms that are mediated by neurohormonal activation. Mechanical effects may also contribute. As the left ventricle distends, the intraventricular septum bows into the right ventricle, decreasing the capacity of the right ventricle.
Heart failure caused by systolic dysfunction is more readily recognized. It can be simplistically described as failure of the pump function of the heart. It is characterized by a decreased ejection fraction (less than 45%). The strength of ventricular contraction is attenuated and inadequate for creating an adequate stroke volume, resulting in inadequate cardiac output. In general, this is caused by dysfunction or destruction of cardiac myocytes or their molecular components. In congenital diseases such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the molecular structure of individual myocytes is affected. Myocytes and their components can be damaged by inflammation (such as in myocarditis) or by infiltration (such as in amyloidosis). Toxins and pharmacological agents (such as ethanol, cocaine, and amphetamines) cause intracellular damage and oxidative stress. The most common mechanism of damage is ischemia causing infarction and scar formation. After myocardial infarction, dead myocytes are replaced by scar tissue, deleteriously affecting the function of the myocardium. On echocardiogram, this is manifest by abnormal or absent wall motion.
Because the ventricle is inadequately emptied, ventricular end-diastolic pressure and volumes increase. This is transmitted to the atrium. On the left side of the heart, the increased pressure is transmitted to the pulmonary vasculature, and the resultant hydrostatic pressure favors extravassation of fluid into the lung parenchyma, causing pulmonary edema. On the right side of the heart, the increased pressure is transmitted to the systemic venous circulation and systemic capillary beds, favoring extravassation of fluid into the tissues of target organs and extremities, resulting in dependent peripheral edema.
Heart failure caused by diastolic dysfunction is generally described as the failure of the ventricle to adequately relax and typically denotes a stiffer ventricular wall. This causes inadequate filling of the ventricle, and therefore results in an inadequate stroke volume. The failure of ventricular relaxation also results in elevated end-diastolic pressures, and the end result is identical to the case of systolic dysfunction (pulmonary edema in left heart failure, peripheral edema in right heart failure.)
Diastolic dysfunction can be caused by processes similar to those that cause systolic dysfunction, particularly causes that affect cardiac remodeling.
Diastolic dysfunction may not manifest itself except in physiologic extremes if systolic function is preserved. The patient may be completely asymptomatic at rest. However, they are exquisitely sensitive to increases in heart rate, and sudden bouts of tachycardia (which can be caused simply by physiological responses to exertion, fever, or dehydration, or by pathological tachyarrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation with rapid ventricular response) may result in flash pulmonary edema. Adequate rate control (usually with a pharmacological agent that slows down AV conduction such as a calcium channel blocker or a beta-blocker) is therefore key to preventing decompensation.
Left ventricular diastolic function can be determined through echocardiography by measurement of various parameters such as the E/A ratio (early-to-atrial left ventricular filling ratio), the E (early left ventricular filling) deceleration time, and the isovolumic relaxation time.
Chest X-rays are frequently used to aid in the diagnosis of CHF. In the compensated patient, this may show cardiomegaly (visible enlargement of the heart), quantified as the cardiothoracic ratio (proportion of the heart size to the chest). In left ventricular failure, there may be evidence of vascular redistribution ("upper lobe blood diversion" or "cephalization"), Kerley lines, cuffing of the areas around the bronchi, and interstitial edema.
According to a meta-analysis comparing BNP and N-terminal pro-BNP (NTproBNP) in the diagnosis of heart failure, BNP is a better indicator for heart failure and left ventricular systolic dysfunction. In groups of symptomatic patients, a diagnostic odds ratio of 27 for BNP compares with a sensitivity of 85% and specificity of 84% in detecting heart failure.
If a heart failure patient exhibits a resistance to or poor response to diuretic therapy, ultrafiltration or aquapheresis may be needed to achieve adequate control of fluid retention and congestion. The use of such mechanical methods of fluid removal can produce meaningful clinical benefits in patients with diuretic-resistant heart failure and may restore responsiveness to conventional doses of diuretics.9
The inotropic agent dobutamine is advised only in the short-term use of acutely decompensated heart failure, and has no other uses.
Phosphodiesterase inhibitors such as milrinone are sometimes utilized in severe cardiomyopathy. The mechanism of action is through the antagonism of adenosine receptors, resulting in inotropic effects and modest diuretic effects.
The COMPANION trial demonstrated that CRT improved survival in individuals with NYHA class III or IV heart failure with a widened QRS complex on an electrocardiogram. The CARE-HF trial showed that patients receiving CRT and optimal medical therapy benefited from a 36% reduction in all cause mortality, and a reduction in cardiovascular-related hospitalization.
Patients with NYHA class II, III or IV, and LVEF of 35% (without a QRS requirement) may also benefit from an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), a device that is proven to reduce all cause mortality by 23% compared to placebo in patients who were already optimally managed on drug therapy. Patients with severe cardiomyopathy are at high risk for sudden cardiac death due to ventricular dysrhythmias. Although ICDs deliver electrical shocks to resynchronize heart rythm which are potentially destressing to the patient, they have not been shown to affect quality of life. The number of (appropriate and inappropriate) shocks seems to be associated to a worse outcome. Although they are expensive, ICDs are potentially cost-effective in this setting.
Another current treatment involves the use of left ventricular assist devices (LVADs). LVADs are battery-operated mechanical pump-type devices that are surgically implanted on the upper part of the abdomen. They take blood from the left ventricle and pump it through the aorta. LVADs are becoming more common and are often used by patients who have to wait for heart transplants.
If heart failure ensues after a myocardial infarction due to scarring and aneurysm formation, reconstructive surgery may be an option. These aneurysms bulge with every contraction, making it inefficient. Cooley and coworkers reported the first surgical treatment of a left ventricular aneurysm in 1958. The used a linear closure after their excision. In the 1980s, Vincent Dor developed a method using an circular patch stitched to the inside of the ventricle (the endoventricular circular patch plasty or Dor procedure) to close the defect after excision. His approach has been modified by others. Today, this is the preferred method for surgical treatment of incorrectly contracting (dyskinetic) left ventricle tissue, although a linear closure technique combined with septoplasty might be equally effective. The multicenter RESTORE trial of 1198 participants demonstrated an increase in ejection fraction from about 30% to 40% with a concomitant shift in NYHA classes, with an early mortality of 5% and a 5-year survival of 70%. As of yet, it remains unknown if surgery is superior to optimal medical therapy. The STICH trial (Surgical Treatment for IschemiC Heart Failure) will examine the role of medical treatment, coronary artery bypass surgery and left ventricle remodeling surgery in heart failure patients. Results are expected to be published in 2009 and 2011.
The Batista procedure was invented by Brazilian doctor Randas Batista in 1994 for use in patients with non-ischemic dilated cardiomyopathy. It involves removal of a portion of viable tissue from the left ventricle to reduce its size (partial left ventriculectomy), with or without repair or replacement of the mitral valve.. Although several studies showed benefits from this surgery, studies at the Cleveland Clinic concluded that this procedure was associated with a high early and late failure rate. At 3 years only 26 percent were event-free and survival rate was only 60 percent. Most hospitals have abandoned this operation and it is no longer included in heart failure guidelines.
Newer procedures under examination are based on the observation that the spherical configuration of the dilated heart reduces ejection fraction compared to the elliptical form. Mesh-like constraint devices such as the Acorn CorCap aim to improve contraction efficacy and prevent further remodeling. Clinical trials are underway. Another technique which aims to divide the spherical ventricle into two elliptical halves is used with the Myosplint device.
Supplemental oxygen should be administered if hypoxemia is present. It should not however be routinely used. Continuous positive airway pressure may be applied using a face mask; this has been shown to improve symptoms more quickly than oxygen therapy alone, and has in some studies been shown to reduce the risk of death. Severe respiratory failure requires treatment with endotracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation.
Heart failure is usually associated with a volume overloaded state. Therefore those with evidence of fluid overload should be treated initially with intravenous loop diuretics. In the absence of symptomatic hypotension intravenous nitroglycerin is often used in addition to diuretic therapy to improve congestive symptoms.
Volume status should still be adequately evaluated. Some heart failure patients on chronic diuretics can be over diuresis. In the case of diastolic dysfunction without systolic dysfunction, fluid resuscitation may in fact improve circulation by decreasing heart rate, which will allow the ventricles more time to fill. Even if the patient is edematous, fluid resuscitation may be the first line of treatment if the patient is hypotensive. The patient may in fact be intravascularly volume depleted, although if the hypotension is due to cardiogenic shock, additional fluid may make the situation worse. If the patient's circulatory volume is adequate but there is persistent evidence of inadequate end-organ perfusion, inotropes may be administered. In certain circumstances, a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) may be necessary.
Certain scenarios will require emergent consultation with cardiothoracic surgery. Heart failure due to acute aortic regurgitation is a surgical emergency associated with high mortality. Heart failure may occur after rupture of ventricular aneurysm. These can form after myocardial infarction. If it ruptures on the free wall, it will cause cardiac tamponade. If it ruptures on the intraventricular septum, it can create a ventricular septal defect. Other causes of cardiac tamponade may also require surgical intervention, although emergent treatment at bedside may be adequate. It should also be determined whether the patient had a history of a repaired congenital heart disease as they often have complex cardiac anatomy with artificial grafts and shunts that may sustain damage, leading to acute decompensated heart failure.
Acute myocardial infarction can precipitate acute decompensated heart failure and will necessitate emergent revascularization with thrombolytics, percutaneous coronary intervention, or coronary artery bypass graft.
Once the patient is stabilized, attention can be turned to treating pulmonary edema to improve oxygenation. Intravenous furosemide is generally the first line. However, patients on long-standing diuretic regimens can become tolerant, and dosages must be progressively increased. If high doses of furosemide are inadequate, boluses or continuous infusions of bumetanide may be preferred. These loop diuretics may be combined with thiazide diuretics such as oral metolazone or intravenous chlorthiazide for a synergistic effect. Intravenous preparations are preferred because of more predictable absorption. When a patient is extremely fluid overloaded, they can develop intestinal edema as well, which can affect enteral absorption of medications.
Another option is nesiritide, although it should only be considered if conventional therapy has been ineffective and the patient is extremely symptomatic.
Provided that the patient has an adequate blood pressure and is not bradycardic, a β1 selective beta-blocker such as metoprolol should be started. In cases of more severe cardiomyopathy, a beta blocker with alpha antagonist effects such as carvedilol or labetalol may be preferred. An ACE inhibitor or angiotensin receptor blockers should be started as well. If the ejection fraction is poor, an aldosterone receptor antagonist should be started as well.
The criteria for successful treatment of acute decompensated heart failure is the re-establishment of adequate oxygenation off of supplemental oxygen, adequate perfusion of end-organs, and return to baseline symptomatology. A parameter frequently used is return to "dry" weight. As the test is becoming more easily available, return to baseline BNP can also serve as a measure of adequate treatment.
The goal is to prevent the development of acute decompensated heart failure, to counteract the deleterious effects of cardiac remodeling, and to minimize the symptoms that the patient suffers. In addition to pharmacologic agents (oral loop diuretics, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers, vasodilators, and in severe cardiomyopathy aldosterone receptor antagonists), behavioral modification should be pursued, specifically with regards to dietary guidelines regarding salt and fluid intake. Exercise should be encouraged as tolerated, as sufficient conditioning can significantly improve quality-of-life.
In patients with severe cardiomyopathy, implantation of an automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator(AICD) should be considered. A select population will also probably benefit from ventricular resynchronization.
In select cases, cardiac transplantation can be considered. While this may resolve the problems associated with heart failure, the patient generally must remain on an immunosuppressive regimen to prevent rejection, which has its own significant downsides.
Without transplantation, heart failure caused by ischemic heart disease is not reversible, and cardiac function typically deteriorates with time. (In particular, diastolic function worsens as a function of age even in individuals without ischemic heart disease.) The growing number of patients with Stage D heart failure (intractable symptoms of fatigue, shortness of breath or chest pain at rest despite optimal medical therapy) should be considered for palliative care or hospice, according to American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines.
A very important method for assessing prognosis in advanced heart failure patients is cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPX testing). CPX testing is usually required prior to heart transplantation as an indicator of prognosis. Cardiopulmonary exercise testing involves measurement of exhaled oxygen and carbon dioxide during exercise. The peak oxygen consumption (VO2 max) is used as an indicator of prognosis. As a general rule, a VO2 max less than 12-14 cc/kg/min indicates a poorer survival and suggests that the patient may be a candidate for a heart transplant. Patients with a VO2 max<10 cc/kg/min have clearly poorer prognosis. The most recent International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation (ISHLT) guidelines (http://www.jhltonline.org/article/PIIS1053249806004608/fulltext#sec1) also suggest two other parameters that can be used for evaluation of prognosis in advanced heart failure, the heart failure survival score and the use of a criteria of VE/VCO2 slope>35 from the CPX test. The heart failure survival score is a score calculated using a combination of clinical predictors and the VO2 max from the cardiopulmonary exercise test.