Heart failure is a global term for the physiological state in which cardiac output is insufficient for the body's needs.
This occurs most commonly when the cardiac output is low (often termed "congestive heart failure").
In contrast, it may also occur when the body's requirements for oxygen and nutrients are increased, and demand outstrips what the heart can provide, (termed "high output cardiac failure") . This can occur in the context of severe anemia, Gram negative septicaemia, 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 words "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 decompensated 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:
- Cardiac arrest, and asystole both refer to situations in which there is ''no'' cardiac output at all. Without urgent treatment, these result in sudden death.
- Heart attack refers to a blockage in a coronary (heart) artery resulting in heart muscle damage.
- Cardiomyopathy refers specifically to problems within the heart muscle, and these problems usually result in heart failure. Ischemic cardiomyopathy implies that the cause of muscle damage is coronary artery disease. Dilated cardiomyopathy implies that the muscle damage has resulted in enlargement of the heart. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy involves enlargement and ''thickening'' of the heart muscle.
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