A look at heart failure

The term “heart failure” is really kind of scary.  The word failure means breaking down, not functioning or collapse. To say our heart has failed is like saying it has stopped beating, but that of course is not true.  A better way to think of it is the heart is not working like it should or at its best.

Heart failure is also known as congestive heart failure when fluid builds up in various parts of the body.  It’s one of the most common reasons why people 65 and older have to be admitted into the hospital and affects around 5.8 million Americans.

Symptoms of heart failure develop slowly over time.  It’s a sign the heart is becoming weaker losing the ability to pump blood your body needs. This can cause two major problems for the body: (1) the tissues and organs don’t get enough oxygen, and (2) fluid builds up in the lungs and tissues. 

Signs of heart failure

Someone with symptoms of heart failure may interpret them to be caused by being out of shape, overweight, or just getting old. But the more you notice these symptoms it’s time to see your physician. Symptoms can include:

·         Shortness of breath, especially when lying down

·         Tired, run-down feeling

·         Coughing or wheezing, especially when you exercise or lie down

·         Swelling in feet, ankles, and legs

·         Weight gain from fluid buildup

·         Confusion or can’t think clearly

The heart is still working during heart failure but the body’s need for blood and oxygen isn’t being met. Failure to treat the condition can lead to further weakening of the heart with greater complications.

What can happen with heart failure

·         Your heart does not pump enough blood

·         Blood backs up into your veins

·         Fluid builds up in your body, causing swelling in your feet, ankles, and legs known as edema

·         Fluid can also build up in your lungs referred to as pulmonary edema

·         Your body will not get sufficient blood, food and oxygen

Causes of heart failure

Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of heart failure. This occurs when buildup of fatty deposits called plaque narrow the inside of arteries restricting the flow of blood to the heart muscle.

Other risk factors include:

·         Heart defects present since birth

·         A past heart attack that did damage to the heart muscle

·         High blood pressure

·         Heart valve disease

·         Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmias)

·         Being overweight

·         Diabetes

·         Thyroid problems

·         Alcohol or drug abuse

·         Certain types of chemotherapy

Treating heart failure

There are several methods a doctor may choose to treat heart failure based on each individuals medical history and advancement of the condition.  Here are some ways they may choose to treat heart failure:

·         Medicine to strengthen the heart and water pills to rid the body of excess fluids

·         Recommend a low-sodium diet

·         Oxygen for home use

·         Lifestyle changes

·         Surgery or cardiac devises that may help

Managing heart failure

Heart failure is a condition that can be managed by the individual taking personal responsibility to make lifestyle changes.  By following the advice listed below, the more likely those positive changes can make the condition more manageable for many years to come:

·         Stop smoking

·         Take medications exactly as prescribed

·         Weight daily checking for weight gain caused by increased fluid

·         Keep track of your fluid intake

·         Monitor blood pressure daily

·         Lose or maintain weight based on your doctor’s advice

·         Avoid or limit caffeine and alcohol

·         Eat a heart-healthy diet low in sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat

·         Be physically active

·         Get adequate rest

Thanks to advancements in treatment, when heart failure is diagnosed early, many people can go on to enjoy many more years of fulfilling life than in the past.  The key is recognizing the symptoms, getting to your physician early and make necessary lifestyle changes to manage it successfully.