Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation

Chronic Heart Failure

Breathing Difficulties With CHF
First Published: Investigator - January 2007

A team of researchers and cardiologists at Flinders Medical Centre, led by Prof Andrew Bersten and Dr Dani-Louise Bryan from the Department of Critical Care Medicine and Dr Carmine De Pasquale of the Cardiology Department, are focused on the changes that take place within the lung of those who suffer Chronic Heart Failure (CHF).

CHF is most common within the elderly who have suffered a heart complication and is an ongoing health problem with up to half of over 80 year olds suffering from this condition.

“The biggest problem for sufferers of CHF is the inability to breathe properly,” said Prof Bersten. “So shortness of breath, an inability to exercise and fatiguing easily are all associated with these changes within the lung.”

There are two sorts of heart failure that occur in CHF, systolic heart failure which causes a weakened heart due to an inability to pump blood out and diastolic heart failure, a stiff heart caused by an inability to fill with blood properly. Both of these can lead to fluid or blood backing up into the lung, causing high pressure damage. In turn this can lead to chronic changes in the lung blood vessels and tissues, similar to that seen with pulmonary fibrosis. While this can be beneficial by reducing the amount of fluid in the lung, it also makes the lung stiffer, thereby worsening breathing difficulties.

Fibrosis is a process the body undertakes to heal itself, however, there are circumstances where this causes further problems. In the lung, fibrosis can make the lung stiffer and increase the barrier for oxygen transfer into the blood.

Researchers at Flinders are investigating the mechanisms that cause fibrosis in the lung with the intention of understanding at what point these changes become harmful. This could allow for the creation of an interventional drug to better manage this debilitating part of CHF.

“Currently we are trying to understand what is going on within the lung in CHF with the ambition of eventually being able to modify the changes to allow for patients to breathe easier,” said Dr Bersten.

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