Facts On Heart Failure

Heart failure – just the name itself sounds menacing and somewhat confusing.  The nomenclature gives the impression that the heart has stopped beating to be called “heart failure” but that’s not the case at all.  The heart has not failed completely but is does mean your heart is not pumping blood as efficiently as it should.  The heart is still beating but it is not able to keep up with the body’s constant need for blood and oxygen each and every day.

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is one of the most common reasons why people over the age of 65 are admitted into the hospital.  In fact, around 5.7 million Americans live with heart failure with those past the age of 40 having a one-in-five chance of developing the condition in their lifetime.   Heart failure can take a long time to develop leading to the heart becoming weaker and less capable of pumping blood throughout the body.

Over time as heart failure develops, the body will try to compensate for an inadequate blood supply.  To keep the heart beating, stress hormones rise as blood vessels narrow to keep blood pressure stable.  It’s important for blood to continually reach the heart and brain so to keep that happening, the body will divert blood away from less critical tissue.  During this overcompensation, sodium and fluid will be retained in an attempt to supplement the volume of circulating blood.

Symptoms of heart failure

·        Tired, run-down feeling

·        Shortness of breath, especially when lying down

·        Coughing or wheezing especially when exercising or lying down

·        Swelling in the ankles, feet, and legs

·        Weight gain from fluid buildup

Causes of heart failure

There can a multitude of causes leading to heart failure.  The most common cause is coronary artery disease (CAD).  CAD can occur when arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle narrow due to buildup of fatty deposits called plaque. 

Other causes of heart failure include:

·        Heart defects since birth

·        Past heart attack that damaged the heart muscle

·        High blood pressure

·        Heart valve disease

·        Being overweight

·        Diabetes

·        Thyroid issues

·        Alcohol or drug abuse

·        Infection of the heart or the heart valves

·        Certain types of chemotherapy

How is heart failure treated and managed?

Fortunately, there are a number of treatment methods that can be successful at managing heart failure.  In the past, people with heart failure had an average life span after diagnosis of about 5 years.  Now, thanks to earlier diagnosis and advances in how it is treated, many people with heart failure can enjoy many more years of life ahead.

Here are some ways heart failure can be treated:

·        Medications can be given to strengthen the heart along with water pills to rid the body of excess fluid.

·        Follow a low-sodium diet

·        Possibly treated with oxygen for use at home

·        In some cases, surgery or cardiac devices may be needed

Once a person is told they have heart failure, there are many lifestyle changes they should make that will be important in managing the condition.  Incorporating these changes will be necessary in order to prevent further damage to the heart leading to even more serious consequences. 

Here are some lifestyle habits a person can do to manage heart failure:

·        Quit smoking if you smoke

·        Take all medications prescribed

·        Weigh yourself daily checking for weight gain causes by fluid retention

·        Keep track of your daily fluid intake

·        Monitor blood pressure daily

·        If overweight, lose weight and strive to reach and maintain a healthy body weight

·        Avoid or limit alcohol and caffeine

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

·        Reduce sodium intake by consuming less salt and salty foods

·        Be physically active on a regular basis

·        Get adequate sleep