What is Ejection Fraction?
Ejection fraction acts as a medical measurement of the percentage of blood being pushed out of your heart on each contraction of the organ. The function of the heart is to contract and relax. Each heartbeat consists of a cycle of these two movements. On contraction, blood is forced through the ventricles. Even a particularly strong contraction, however, won’t push all of the blood out of the ventricle. This is where the ejection fraction measurement comes in. It is a measurement of how much blood is pumped out compared to how much remains in the ventricle.
Typically, ejection fraction is measured in the left ventricle. A healthy fraction ranges from 55% to 70%. There are several reasons why this percentage may decrease. Among the reasons are heart weakness, damage done by a heart attack, valve problems, and uncontrolled high blood pressure. In some cases, a low ejection fraction is used to partially diagnose chronic heart failure, though it is usually combined with subsequent testing to eliminate other possible causes. Tests that measure ejection fraction include an echocardiogram, cardiac catheterization, an MRI, and a CT scan.
Types of Ejection Fraction
If your heart is normal, the ejection fraction would measure anywhere between 55-70%. However, depending on your condition, the measurement could go up or down. The different measurements allow doctors to have a good indication of how severe the heart may be failing. Unfortunately, this measurement isn’t a perfect indication that heart failure may or may not happen, which is why different measurements indicate different issues. Here are a couple types of ejection fraction:
- Preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF): This type may also be known as diastolic heart failure. The heart’s measurement may appear to be normal, but the ventricles become stiff and are unable to relax. This causes less blood to pump and can leave you feeling fatigued or short of breath.
- Reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF): This is also known as systolic heart failure. A good indication that you may be experiencing HFrEF is if your measurement is below 35%. This typically indicates that the ventricles are enlarged, which makes it difficult for them to contract properly. You may experience heart palpitations, exhaustion, and difficulty breathing.
There are other percentages that may indicate heart failure, but the two types above are the most common.
Ejection Fraction and Heart Failure
Low Ejection Fraction Symptoms
Symptoms will depend on the severity of the heart failure, but when the measurement is below 50% some common symptoms may include:
- Irregular heartbeats
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty concentrating
Keep in mind that you may experience these symptoms and have a normal measurement. Doctors may have to conduct further tests to see if your ventricles are working properly.
What Causes Your Ejection Fraction to be Low?
The main cause of a low measurement is heart failure. However, there are different types of heart failure. The cause may be due to:
- Heart attack: If something is blocking your heart’s arteries, this can cause a low measurement.
- Systolic heart failure: As noted above, when your measurement is below 35% it is an indication of systolic heart failure. This happens when the left ventricle doesn’t sufficiently pump enough blood.
- Coronary heart disease: When the two main arteries are blocked or are too narrow, it may block blood from flowing to the heart. This will reduce the measurement.
- Cardiomyopathy: When the heart tissue thickens, it makes it difficult for the heart to properly pump blood thus reducing the measurement of blood being pumped compared to how much is actually in the ventricle.
- Heart valve disease: If the heart’s valves can’t open and close correctly, blood won’t flow sufficiently through the heart. This will cause the measurement to decrease.
Low Ejection Fraction Treatment
There are various treatments that can improve your heart’s measurement. This can include medication, surgery, and even changes to your lifestyle. The type of treatment that will work best for you will depend on the severity of the heart failure or disease. Treating the cause is the first step to improving your number. If your doctor is able to find the cause of the low ejection fraction and treat it properly, you’ll be able to live a fairly normal life. Your doctor, however, may suggest that you continue taking medication to stabilize your condition and make certain changes to your lifestyle. If your symptoms and condition are severe, it may inhibit your ability to perform daily tasks. The most important thing to keep in mind is to follow your doctor’s treatment plan.
Determining Disability Eligibility for Ejection Fraction
Ejection fraction is among the measurements used by the SSA when evaluating disability eligibility. Under the SSA’s listing for heart failure, it notes that an individual should be approved for disability benefits should their number fall under 30%. This should not, however, discourage anyone who is interested in filing a claim who doesn’t meet this qualification. SSDI claims are based upon more than just a single number. While medical tests are part of the process, the greater concern is whether your condition prevents the individual from performing their duties at work. Because of this, the SSA will require that your symptoms substantially limit your function or that you perform poorly on an exercise tolerance test.
A low ejection fraction measurement can put you in line for Social Security disability benefits. While medical tests are only part of the equation, they are an important part. Anyone considering a claim should see a doctor of their own choosing when possible, rather than one appointed by the SSA. Your own doctor will be much more familiar with your overall health, rather than simply reading numbers on a chart. While any ejection fraction numbers below 50% are indicative of some form of cardiovascular decline, they won’t necessarily qualify you for disability benefits on their own. Go into filing your claim with the proper work history form and remember that you have the right to appeal a denied claim. You will have to prove that you not only have the ejection fraction the SSA requires, but symptoms that prevent you from completing your work duties.