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What is Cardiac Insufficiency?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cardiac insufficiency is a medical term that refers to a type of heart failure in which the heart is not able to pump enough blood throughout the body. The most common causes of the condition are chronic hypertension, inflammation of heart tissue, and high cholesterol. A person may experience chronic insufficiency, in which symptoms of fatigue, cough, and shortness of breath persist over time, or acute cardiac insufficiency, where severe chest pain and breathing problems come about suddenly. Heart failure is usually considered an emergency condition, and an individual should seek medical attention right away when he or she begins noticing symptoms.

Most instances of heart failure develop slowly and get worse over time. Chronic conditions can be a result of high blood pressure, cholesterol buildup in the arteries, a history of heart attacks, or a congenital heart defect. Acute cases can occur because of a severe bout of pneumonia, a heart attack, or an arrhythmia. Untreated allergic reactions, viruses, or sudden blood clots may also affect heart functioning and lead to insufficiency.

Acute cases of cardiac insufficiency are usually noticeable right away. A person might feel a sharp pain in his or her chest, and experience shortness of breath, numbing on one or both sides of the body, and sudden swelling in the extremities that results from fluid buildup. An individual with chronic heart problems typically begins to notice feelings of fatigue and weakness, a reduced capacity for exercise, worsening breathing problems, and a loss of appetite. Without treatment, both chronic and acute conditions can lead to permanent health problems or even death.

Prescription medications are usually given to patients with chronic cardiac insufficiency to help relieve symptoms and lessen the risk of heart attacks. A popular medicine for heart failure is called an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, and works by dilating blood vessels to improve blood flow and take strain off of the heart. A patient may also be prescribed beta blockers to slow and stabilize the heart rate, or other medications specifically designed to relieve underlying conditions like cholesterol buildup.

Someone who experiences acute cardiac insufficiency may need emergency surgery to prevent total heart failure. Doctors usually first try to stabilize the heart with medications, and then surgically clear congested vessels or perform an arterial bypass procedure. If the heart has become so weak that it is totally unable to function, a surgeon might implant a defibrillator or artificial heart pump to make sure that blood continues to flow properly. In the most severe circumstances, a heart transplant may be necessary to save the patient's life.

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Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Apr 30, 2012

@simrin-- I'm not an expert or anything and I understand that cardiac insufficiency is totally different from a heart attack like @anamur said, but I think that the treatments can be similar. My mom, for example, takes beta blockers regularly for her high blood pressure. This is one of the treatments for cardiac insufficiency and as I've found out recently, it helps prevent heart attacks too.

My mom took a new type of blood pressure medication last year and had unwanted side effects. She basically had a panic attack and we called an ambulance to take her to the hospital. When the medical personnel came, she told them that she thinks she's having a heart attack. She also told them that she takes beta blockers.

They told my mom that beta-blockers protect against heart attack since they cause arteries to expand and that she doesn't need to worry. This was such a relief and she was able to calm down and we didn't even go to the hospital.

So the causes are different, but treatments can be similar from what I understand.

By serenesurface — On Apr 30, 2012

@simrin-- No, it's not the same. A heart attack is when an artery is blocked and parts of the heart don't receive blood and oxygen. Without oxygen, tissue slowly starts to die. A stroke is when the brain gets too little or too much blood.

Cardiac insufficiency on the other hand is when the heart is not able to pump blood as well as it should. So there is no blockage, the heart just can't do its job properly for various reasons. The results can be similar to a heart attack though because tissues are again not able to get all the blood supply and oxygen they need.

All of these can lead to cardiac arrest (heart failure) prognosis if they're not treated. So you're right about that.

By SteamLouis — On Apr 29, 2012

I just got news that one of my uncles has been hospitalized because of cardiac insufficiency. I have never heard of this term before and I asked my dad if it's a heart attack. He's not too sure about the differences either but he said the doctor told them cardiac insufficiency, not heart attack or stroke.

So what's the difference? Aren't they all causes of heart failure? Is cardiac insufficiency more serious and dangerous than a heart attack?

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