Everything You Need to Know About Acute Heart Failure

Acute heart failure (AHF) is a condition characterized by the inability of the body’s organs to function normally due to damage sustained during or after an illness. Acute heart failure occurs when there are no adequate blood flow to one or more vital organ(s).

The most common causes of AHF include:

Cardiac arrest (accidental or otherwise) – the heart stops beating temporarily, usually because of a problem with the electrical system. Cardiogenic shock – sudden drop in blood pressure caused by high levels of fluid build up in the lungs and other parts of the body. Infection – infection such as pneumonia, sepsis, tuberculosis, hepatitis B virus (HBV), HIV/AIDS and others. Severe trauma – injury to the heart or arteries leading to it. Stroke – a blockage of blood vessels in the brain.

Other conditions that may cause acute heart failure include: diabetes mellitus, hypertension, hyperthyroidism, alcoholism, drug abuse and obesity.

Symptoms of Acute Heart Failure (AHF):

Fatigue Fatigability Weakness Muscle weakness Muscular fatigue Numbness Sudden death

What is Acute Heart Failure?

The heart is a muscle that pumps blood round the body. It has four parts: the right and left upper chambers (the right and left atria) and the right and left lower chambers (the right and left ventricles). The right side of the heart pumps de-oxygenated blood to the lungs, while the left side pumps oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.

When you exercise, your heart needs to work harder to pump blood around your body. The muscles of the left side of the heart (the left ventricle and the large arteries that supply the body with oxygen-rich blood) have a great capacity for growth in response to physical activity.

Heart failure is when your heart is damaged beyond its ability to compensate for the increased demands placed on it. The left side of the heart does not grow at the same rate as the right side in response to exercise, so it can no longer pump blood around the body as efficiently.

Acute heart failure is sudden onset of severe symptoms caused by too much blood in the body, or fluid build up. This may be caused by problems with the heart’s strength and efficiency (cardiomyopathy), or damage to the heart muscle following a heart attack.

Acute heart failure makes you feel very unwell very quickly. It is a medical emergency that requires urgent treatment.

The major symptoms of acute heart failure are:

Tightness or fullness in the chest.

Shortness of breath when at rest or with mild exertion, such as climbing stairs.

Sudden weight gain even though your diet and lifestyle have not changed.

Coughing up pink, red or brown frothy fluid.

Sources & references used in this article:

Impact of patient positioning on lung ultrasound findings in acute heart failure by SE Frasure, DK Matilsky, SD Siadecki… – … Journal: Acute …, 2015 – journals.sagepub.com

European Society of Cardiology-Acute Cardiovascular Care Association position paper on acute heart failure: a call for interdisciplinary care by …, Acute Heart Failure Study Group of the … – … Journal: Acute …, 2017 – journals.sagepub.com

Living with heart failure; patient and carer perspectives by JF Pattenden, H Roberts… – European Journal of …, 2007 – journals.sagepub.com

When all else has failed: Nurses’ perception of factors influencing palliative care for patients with end-stage heart failure by K Wotton, S Borbasi, M Redden – Journal of Cardiovascular …, 2005 – journals.lww.com