More people die from heart failure than from any other cause, and most likely conditions affecting the heart will continue from now on to be the leading cause of death.
The chief manifestations of heart failure are seen in the difficulties of breathing. Dr. Harold Hyman describes this graphically:
“The person notes that his `wind is failing’ and he becomes breathless as the result of any unusual effort. Once the breath is lost, it takes an unaccustomed span of time for recovery. The sufferer is compelled to sit down and `rest a bit’ and, when activity is resumed, it is not with accustomed vigor and elasticity; an extra pillow is required at night and then another until the most comfortable position for sleep is semi-recumbent. Members of the family and co-workers note that the now potentially cardiac invalid pants a bit even at rest, and that the chest heaves more than has been its custom.”
Failure of the heart is usually associated with high blood pressure, and with extreme narrowing of the valves that carry the blood from the heart into the large blood vessel called the aorta into which the heart empties.
The heart always makes an effort to handle its increasing burden. It does this by enlarging the muscle fibers and dilating to increase the size of its cavities. When the load gets too heavy the rhythm of the heart becomes irregular. There may be pain like that of angina pectoris. The cough that occurs is due to the congestion in the lungs. With heart failure digestive symptoms may be prominent, including nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite, and sensations of fullness in the middle of the abdomen. Of course, a heart that has been damaged by disease such as rheumatic fever or other infections is more likely to fail than a healthy heart.