Heart Failure Awareness

This week is Heart Failure Awareness Week, a nationwide campaign to bring awareness to the risk factors, signs, symptoms, and treatment of heart failure. Heart failure is a progressive condition in which the heart loses its ability to pump enough blood to supply the body’s needs. Though the name implies that the heart is no longer working, heart failure can be treated and many people diagnosed with heart failure can lead an active lifestyle. This week’s theme – Heart Success: Function Not Failure aims to educate patients and caregivers with self-care tips and how to make healthy choices, and also to provide information regarding signs, symptoms, and risk factors of heart failure.

According to the Heart Failure Society of America, roughly 6.5 million adults over the age of 20 (though more common in people over 65) in the United States are living with heart failure. There are two main types of heart failure: systolic and diastolic. When the heart becomes weak and unable to pump enough blood, that is called Systolic heart failure. Diastolic heart failure is when the heart becomes stiff and unable to fill up with enough blood to pump.

Risk factors of heart failure include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • History of heart murmur
  • Enlargement of the heart
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Family history of members with an enlarged heart
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Severe lung disease

Many signs of heart failure might be ignored, but always pay attention to your body. Only you know your own body, and changes in sleep patterns and breathing could be a signal to talk to your doctor. Other symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble breathing when lying down
  • Needing to sleep while propped up
  • Tiring easily/fatigue
  • Frequent dry cough, and especially a cough that produces pink or blood-tinged mucus
  • Swelling at the feet, ankles or legs
  • Cold legs and arms
  • Frequent urination at night.
  • Bloating of the abdomen
  • Loss of appetite or feeling sick to your stomach
  • Difficulty in concentration

Annual doctor appointments are a key to keeping on top of your healthcare. It’s so important to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you are experiencing so they can order testing as needed. A few examples of testing include echocardiograms, electrocardiograms, chest ex-rays, and blood tests to name a few.

An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart that shows the blood flow and wall thickness of the heart, as well as the heart output which is an important factor in the treatment of heart failure.

An electrocardiogram (ECG) uses electrodes placed on your chest to record your heart’s electrical activity which shows your heart rhythm and any damage you may have. In some cases, your doctor may conduct a stress test while having an ECG so they have a better idea of your heart function while it is working at an increased rate. This can be done while on a stationary bike or while given medication to increase your heart rate.

In addition to the above tests, your doctor could order a blood test that can show signs of possible heart conditions. Chest x-rays can be used to rule out possible causes of your heart condition.

Once diagnosed, your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce symptoms and help your heart function better. ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) lower your blood pressure. Beta-blockers slow your heart rate and allow your heart to pump blood better and regain strength. Mineralocorticoid antagonists remove excess fluid from the body and help prevent the loss of potassium. Nitrates and hydralazine also lower blood pressure and reduce the heart’s workload. 

If you are diagnosed with heart failure, you don’t have to stop living, but rather when you make lifestyle changes for the better you will improve your quality of life. Eat a healthier diet, get more exercise,and  take medications as prescribed to help you feel better and live longer.