What Is Diastolic Heart Failure?

The diastolic phase of your blood pressure is the time when the ventricles (the lower two chambers of the heart) relax, allowing them to fill with blood before being pumped back out.

Diastolic heart failure occurs when the muscle of the left ventricle becomes stiff due to thickening. The stiffness causes the blood to back up into the left atrium (upper chamber of the heart) which then causes fluid buildup into the lungs causing symptoms of congestive heart failure. Due to the stiffness, the ventricle isn’t able to relax between beats.

What causes diastolic heart failure?

Common causes of diastolic heart failure include:

  • Coronary Artery Disease (CAD): CAD is a disease where the arteries in the heart are filled with plaque, causing them to be more narrow than normal.
  • Diabetes: Sometimes having diabetes can cause the heart wall to thicken and harden.
  • High blood pressure: Hypertension causes the heart to work harder to pump blood to the body.
  • Obesity: Being significantly overweight also makes the heart work harder to pump blood through it and out to the rest of the body.

What are the symptoms of diastolic heart failure?

Common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath that is worse with exertion but may be present at rest as well, especially at nighttime.
  • Swelling most commonly seen in the legs and ankles/feet.
  • Irregular or faster than normal heart rate.
  • Fatigue and/or weakness which is more prevalent than in the past.
  • Frequent urination during the night.
  • Frequent cough and/or wheezing.
  • Sudden weight gain due to retaining excess fluid throughout the body.

How is diastolic heart failure diagnosed?

Your doctor will give you a physical exam and go over your medical history with you. Some common tests that are done include and electrocardiogram (ECG), a chest x-ray, blood tests, and an echocardiogram. Often times the doctor will order an exercise stress test/treadmill test as well. A heart catheterization is sometimes also done to see if there are any blockages etc within the heart itself.

What is ejection fraction?

Ejection fraction (EF) is the measurement (a percentage) of the amount of blood that is pumped out of the heart via the left ventricle with each beat/contraction. The measurement is only taken from the left ventricle. EF is measured during an echocardiogram which is like an ultrasound of the heart. Normal EF is anything 55% or higher. Reduced EF is anything 50% or lower. An EF of between 50%-55% is generally considered borderline. With diastolic heart failure, the ejection fraction is usually preserved which means it is 50% or higher.

How is diastolic heart failure treated?

Diastolic heart failure cannot be cured, but there are a few treatments that can help reduce the number of symptoms.

Diuretics/water pills are the most common medications prescribed to treat all types of heart failure. They help reduce the amount of excess fluid/water in the body. Blood pressure medications are also commonly prescribed to help lower the blood pressure if it is too high which causes heart failure to worsen.

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors help relax the blood vessels which in turn improves blood flow. Beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers help relax blood vessels and reduce blood pressure.

Angioplasty is a procedure that opens up blocked or narrowed blood vessels and/or repairs any valves within the heart.

Your heart will thank you!

As with any medical condition, taking steps to slow the progression is super important. Maintain a heart-healthy diet, stay as active as you are able to, don’t smoke, and have regular checkups with your doctor. Your heart with thank you!

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