Cachexia refers to a type of wasting condition where the body loses lean muscle mass despite the intake of adequate nutrition. This can occur for many different reasons, including cancer and other serious chronic illnesses. Cardiac cachexia is the name given to this type of wasting illness that is commonly associated with the presence of chronic heart failure (CHF).
Sometimes referred to as wasting disease, exactly how cardiac cachexia is triggered is not clearly understood. It can occur in heart patients who have been stable for an extended period of time, and is typically discovered by observation of the person’s condition. A heart patient who loses 7.5% or more of his or her body weight over a period of six months most likely has this syndrome.
Part of the problem appears to be linked to poor blood circulation caused by the inefficient pumping of the heart. In some cases the presence of a tumor necrosis factor and cytokines in the blood promote inflammation and cause a chronic fever, resulting in a raised metabolism. People with this condition will burn many more calories that they would normally, resulting in the acceleration of the wasting process.
Among the effects of cardiac cachexia are the significant loss of muscle mass and other lean tissue, fat tissue, and bone mass. Patients typically become weak and fail to thrive independent of any other health problems, even if the CHF is being successfully treated. Usually a person with this syndrome becomes exhausted when trying to perform normal tasks and ultimately needs help with routine jobs as simple as personal care, housework, and cooking.
In some cases this syndrome may be associated with a very poor appetite, causing patients who are afflicted with cardiac cachexia to take in insufficient nutrients. Medications to stimulate the appetite may help the patient to eat more, but this rarely has a positive effect on the long-term outcome. This effect also holds true whether the person eats meals by mouth or is given supplemental feedings via an intravenous line or a gastric tube. Scientists believe that malabsorption in the intestines plays a significant role, rendering the body unable to adequately use nutrients.
The prognosis for those afflicted with cardiac cachexia is very poor. Treatment requires the ongoing use of medications to control edema, inflammation, and to promote the patient’s appetite. Immediate, intensive treatment can often prolong the victim’s life, but it requires close medical supervision in order to maintain the appropriate balance of drugs.