At first the heart tries to keep up with its workload of
pumping about 2,000 gallons of blood each day by:
• Enlarging. When your heart chamber enlarges, it
stretches more and can contract more strongly, so it
pumps more blood. However, with an enlarged heart,
your body starts to retain fluid, your lungs get congested
with fluid and your heart begins to beat irregularly.
• Developing more muscle mass. The increase in
muscle mass occurs because the contracting cells of
the heart get bigger. This lets the heart pump more
strongly, at least initially.
• Pumping faster. This helps to increase the
quantity of blood.
The body tries other ways to
• The blood vessels narrow to keep
blood pressure up, to make up for
the heart’s loss of power.
• The body diverts blood away
from less important tissues and
organs (like the kidneys) to the
heart and brain.
These measures only mask the
problem, they don’t solve it. HF
continues and worsens until eventually
the heart and body just can’t keep
up, and the person has the fatigue,
breathing problems or other symptoms
that Jessup described.
That’s exactly what happened with
nurse Teri Dodd of Anderson, Indiana.
In November 2014, she developed a
nagging, dry cough and shortness of
breath. A 49-year-old night nurse, she
often walked after her shift before going
home to bed, “but the shortness of
breath was making that uncomfortable,”
After a 12-hour shift on a Friday,
she was exhausted and decided to
visit her doctor on Monday. After
he had diagnosed the problem as
asthmatic bronchitis, Dodd mentioned
that her mother had died of heart
disease. The doctor sent her for an
electrocardiogram, which showed a
heart rhythm problem and prompted
an echocardiogram (echo).
Following the echo, she was admitted to the hospital,
which was a big surprise, as were the words of her new
doctor, a cardiologist: “He explained that my heart was only
squeezing about 5-10 percent, and that I was a very sick
woman.” She was going to need meds, a strict diet, possibly
a heart pump and maybe to be put on the transplant list. “He
said that I was disabled, and my life was going to be very
changed,” she said.
These conditions had not just suddenly arisen, they
had been developing over time. However, the body’s
attempts to compensate help explain why people often
don’t become aware of their condition until years after
their heart begins its decline. That’s a good reason to have
a regular checkup with your doctor.
Circulation in a normal heart
Circulation in a heart compromised by heart failure