what is heart failure

What Is Heart Failure?

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The human heart is the most efficient pump in the world. On an average, it beats over 2.5 billion times in our lifetime. It provides oxygen rich blood and nutrients to each and every cell in the body.

Every minute it beats, the heart pumps around 5 liters of blood around the body. This blood goes to the kidneys, brain, eyes, ears, nose, toes and every other part of the body. Without a normal functioning heart, the rest of our organs and tissues would suffer.

So when the heart becomes weak, it can be a little concerning. After all, its not just the heart that gets affected; its also the other vital organs and tissues.

The term ‘heart failure’ is a term used to describe a weak heart. The name sounds daunting and worrying – we know. But in simple terms it means that the heart is not as efficient a pump as it used to be.

In 1933, Dr Thomas Lewis defined heart failure as ‘a condition in which the heart fails to discharge its contents adequately’.

But the condition was identified even earlier, with the medical practitioners from India, Egypt and Greece also describing this problem in people they treated.

What is Heart Failure?

The word ‘heart failure’ can be scary and overwhelming. It might seem like an immediate life-threatening condition. However, that is not entirely the case.

The term “Heart Failure” doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped working; it simply means that your heart is not functioning at an optimal level.

Essentially, heart failure is a condition wherein your heart is not in a position to supply enough blood to meet your body’s requirements. When your heart cannot provide adequate blood supply to your organs, your normal day-to-day activities such as walking, climbing stairs, or sleeping flat on your back could be affected.

In extreme cases, even simple activities such as brushing the teeth or bathing can become quite a tough task.

For instance, if you were someone who had no difficulty climbing two flights of stairs before your diagnosis, you may now experience breathlessness during such activity.

Before we discuss heart failure and what it means, let us quickly take a look at certain terminologies that we will refer to in our articles.


Ejection Fraction: Ejection fraction or EF refers to the amount of blood that is pumped from the left ventricle with each contraction. This parameter is used for assessing how well the left ventricle is pumping the blood. As per the American Heart Association, the normal EF is about 55% to 75%.

QOL score: It is a quality of life (QOL) questionnaire that is used to determine the levels of activity of a patient with heart failure. It is helpful in determining how unwell or well a patient is when they have a weak heart.

Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram is a widely used diagnostic test in cardiology. It uses ultrasound waves to assess how well the heart is working in terms of its size, shape, and it’s pumping capacity. An echocardiogram can also help your doctor calculate other variables of the heart function such as cardiac output, ejection fraction (EF), and diastolic function (how well the heart is relaxing). The valves can also be evaluated using an echocardiogram.

Treadmill testing: A treadmill exercise stress test helps evaluate the effects of exercise on the heart. This test is generally helpful in detecting any abnormal heart rhythms and coronary artery disease.

Dr Vivek Baliga B
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