The terms cardiac insufficiency, weak heart and myocardial insufficiency have one and the same meaning: the heart can no longer pump sufficient amounts of blood through the body. Ultimately, this has far-reaching consequences – not only for the heart itself, but for all organs that suffer from a lack of oxygen and nutrients. Here you can find out why you should take heart failure seriously and what consequences it has for the body.
Heart muscle weakness or normal signs of old age?
The heart has to do a lot in a human life. In a 75-year-old, it has pumped an average of almost 180 million litres of blood through the body in the course of his or her life. Isn’t it normal for the heart to weaken with age? It’s not that simple: a healthy heart can live to be 100 years old without showing signs of poor performance. For the sake of health, warning signals should be taken seriously! For example, if you feel swollen legs in the evening or breathlessness during a walk, you should not simply blame this on your advanced age. Behind this can be a heart muscle weakness, which doctors call heart failure.
Myocardial insufficiency: More than stress for heart and body
For a long time it was assumed that the heart did not have enough power to pump in the case of cardiac insufficiency. But it is not only the strength that the weak heart lacks. In the course of the cardiac insufficiency, the heart also changes – it enlarges and “wears out”. The reason for the change is that due to the lower pumping force, the heart has to exert itself over a longer period of time in order to transport sufficient blood through the body. This is an additional strain on the organism. Since the heart is a muscle, it tries to compensate for the higher effort by increasing muscle formation. The heart becomes both heavier and stiffer and less elastic.
The result: the blood supply to the heart and the body deteriorates continuously. The resulting lack of oxygen means great stress for the body and its organs. It therefore reacts with various measures to maintain normal bodily functions as far as possible. So-called compensation mechanisms ensure normal blood circulation for some time, but in the long term they continue to damage the heart and lead to the typical symptoms of heart muscle weakness.
How far has myocardial insufficiency progressed? Classification into four stages
Doctors use a New York Heart Association (NYHA) scheme to assess the severity of cardiac insufficiency. It is divided into four different stages; NYHA stages 1 to 4.
At severity 1, heart failure is medically present, but the patient hardly notices any symptoms. In stages 2 and 3, the disease progresses. Complaints arise with stronger to light strains, but not at rest. In stage 4, on the other hand, the disease is very advanced: The patient is bedridden and also has to struggle with severe symptoms such as shortness of breath at rest.
Click here for an overview of the 4 NYHA stages.
Unfortunately, cardiac insufficiency very often occurs in combination with other diseases, known as concomitant diseases or comorbidities. Frequent examples are diabetes or kidney weakness. About 50 percent of affected patients have more than five different concomitant diseases. They usually influence both the course of the heart muscle weakness and the quality of life of the patient. Therefore, not only the treatment of heart failure is important, but also the treatment of concomitant diseases. On the one hand, the progression of cardiac insufficiency is stopped in the best possible way; on the other hand, patients who adhere to the treatments agreed with their doctor are better off.
Here you will find the right contact person to turn to if you have heart failure.