A weak heart is one that fails to pump efficiently. Unfortunately, it can go undetected for some time, especially if the symptoms are ignored.
In this article, I will answer some simple questions about weak hearts and how you can identify them.
The Normal Heart
Without going into too much boring detail, it is important to first clear up any doubts you may have about the normal heart function.
A normal heart beats at around 60 – 100 beats per minute. With each beat, it pumps blood out to the rest of the body, providing it with nourishment and oxygen.
The quantity of blood that is pumped out of the heart with every beat is called the ejection fraction. It is sometimes called the ‘health meter’ of the heart.
The normal ejection fraction is more than 55%. This means that over 55% of the blood that is present in the left ventricle of the heart is pumped to the vital organs and tissues.
What Is A Weak Heart?
So what does a weak heart mean?
A weak heart is one that does not pump efficiently. In other words, the ejection fraction of a weak heart is below 55%.
A heart that pumps between 40 – 50% is said to be mildly weak. In the medical world, it is termed ‘mildly impaired’.
If it pumps between 30 – 40%, it is moderately weak (or impaired).
If the ejection fraction is below 30%, then it is severely impaired.
How weak a heart is can be determined by a test called an echocardiogram. It is a simple bedside test that is painless and gives quick results.
However, there are certain symptoms and signs that might suggest that you have a weak heart.
Here are 5 signs to suggest that it might be the case.
5 Signs To Suggest You Might Have A Weak Heart
Sign #1 – You Are Tired All The Time
One of the most common clinical feature of heart failure is fatigue.
If your heart is weak, you may find that you are tired even when you are relaxing at home. When you attempt to walk or perform your daily routine, you feel even more breathless.
One reason why those with heart failure feel tired is the problem that exists with circulation of blood. A weak heart cannot pump blood effectively to all the organs and muscles in the body.
Due to this, the muscles do not get the nourishment and oxygen that they need to function normally.
The lack of nourishment makes the muscles weak, and this makes the patient tired.
Fatigue in heart failure patients is one of the most difficult symptoms to control and treat.
Sign #2 – You Are Breathless A Lot
Say, for example, you can walk 20 minutes at a brisk pace without getting breathless.
If your heart is weak, you may find that you become breathless after walking for just 10 minutes or even less.
Breathlessness however just does not affect someone when they are active. Some people may wake up in the middle of the night feeling breathless.
In the medical world, this is called ‘paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnoea’ or PND. This is a classic symptom of a weak heart.
Sign 3# – Your Legs Swell Up
When your heart is weak, the circulation of blood to the peripheries of the body is reduced.
Fluid begins to leak out and collects under the skin. This is commonly seen the legs. This is because the fluid is dragged to the bottom by gravity.
Swelling in the legs is called ‘pedal edema’. It is usually seen in both legs.
(Leg swelling can be due to other causes as well. You can read more on other causes here if you wish to.)
Those who have leg swelling may find that the swelling is absent or minimal in the morning and worse in the evening.
By itself, a small amount of leg swelling does not really cause much trouble. However, as time passes and the swelling increases, patients may find it difficult to move about. This is because the legs can become very heavy.
Leg swelling can be treated with diuretics. These tablets push the kidneys to expel more water from the body.
Sign #4 – You Have A Persistent Cough
The fluid accumulation that I discussed previously may not just be limited to the legs. Fluid can accumulate in the lungs as well.
This causes both breathlessness and cough.
The cough can be quite persistent and annoying. Some people notice the cough throughout the day, while some seem to notice it when lying down only.
Sometimes, the cough can be accompanied by production of pink, frothy sputum.
Wheezing is commonly associated with the cough. It is usually mistaken for an allergic cough sometimes due to this.
Remember, if you have a persistent cough that will not go away, make sure you see your doctor.
Sign #5 – You Don’t Feel Like Eating
People with a weak heart often find that they have no appetite or interest in food.
While there is no clear reason for this, it could be because fluid in the abdomen always gives a sensation of fullness.
However, it must be noted that lack of appetite is just suggestive of a weak heart. There are many other conditions where one may lose their appetite.
Confusion is sometimes seen in heart failure patients, though it is not typical. Usually, those who have a very weak heart can develop this problem. We only encounter it in serious cases in our practice.
A high heart rate is usually associated with a weak heart. This is because the heart is trying it’s level best to work at full capacity.
The problem with a high heart rate is that it makes the heart weaker.
Imagine a horse pulling a cart. If the horse is weak and frail, it may be able to pull the cart to the best of it’s ability for a short distance. Beyond that, it will eventually give up.
This is what can happen with a weak heart. It is therefore important to keep the heart beat nice and steady. Your doctor will prescribe medication for this.
Nothing Is Conclusive….
Please bear in mind that the above symptoms are only suggestive of a weak heart. A single symptom by itself does not mean your heart is weak.
However, if you experience any of these symptoms above, please make sure you see your doctor.
A weak heart can have a significant impact on your day to day life. The above symptoms can help diagnose the problem early. This will help your doctor start treatment sooner rather than later.