The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 6.2 million adults in the U.S. have been diagnosed with heart failure. Also known as congestive heart failure, the condition is characterized by a weakened heart muscle no longer able to pump blood to the rest of the body.
Heart failure can be chronic and progress over time, or it can result from a sudden cardiac event, such as a heart attack. Warning signs of heart failure include shortness of breath even when at rest, swelling of the feet, legs, or abdomen, and extreme fatigue. An irregular heartbeat and wheezing with a white or blood-tinged discharge are also signs of heart failure. Chest pain indicates a heart attack and demands emergency treatment. If these symptoms persist, consult with a cardiologist. With early intervention, heart failure can be treated and the symptoms alleviated.
What causes heart failure?
Certain chronic conditions and lifestyle habits damage the heart muscles. Main risk factors for heart failure include:
Coronary artery disease (CAD). Fatty deposits clog the arteries, leading to reduced blood flow and possibly a heart attack. CAD is the most common cause of heart failure.
Hypertension. High blood pressure causes the heart to work overtime, eventually stiffening the heart muscle.
Faulty Heart Valves. Valves keep the blood flowing in the chambers of the heart. However, when damaged or weakened, they cannot pump blood properly. Valves can be impaired either by CAD, an infection, or a congenital abnormality.
Irregular Heartbeat. Frequent rapid heartbeats can stress the heart.
Diabetes. Diabetes increases your risk of CAD and high blood pressure. Some diabetes medications have reportedly been linked to heart failure. Check with your doctor before changing your medication.
Lifestyle. Obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption can all contribute to heart failure. Smoking is particularly damaging to the heart as it increases blood pressure, damages blood vessels, and cuts the amount of oxygen in the blood. A diet high in fats and sodium has been linked to heart failure, too.
Treating heart failure
Heart failure progresses in stages. In the early stages, you may experience symptoms such as mild shortness of breath but can still complete daily activities. Later on, you may be unable to perform your usual routines because of severe fatigue and constant shortness of breath. If you reach that stage, you should see a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Several tests are used to diagnose heart failure. An electrocardiogram (ECG) records your heartbeat to uncover any atypical rhythms. A stress test to measure your heart rate with an ECG while you walk on a treadmill may also be performed. Some imaging tests provide a clearer picture of your heart’s function, as well.
Treatment involves medications to improve blood flow and lower blood pressure. Devices implanted in the heart, such as a pacemaker, can regulate your heartbeat. Coronary bypass surgery to replace a blocked artery with a healthy one is another surgical option for heart failure. Damaged heart valves can be repaired or replaced. In severe cases, a heart transplant may be recommended.
You can monitor your symptoms at home by checking your pulse and blood pressure. To check your pulse, place your index finger on the area of your wrist below your thumb. Count the number of beats for 30 seconds; double that number and that’s your pulse rate. At-home blood pressure devices are also available to record your blood pressure. Other signs to look for are a significant increase in swelling or a sudden weight gain of three pounds or more in a day or five pounds in a week.
Any uptick in symptoms must be reported to your doctor so they can adjust your treatment plan. You can also make lifestyle improvements, such as quitting smoking, cutting down on fats and sodium in your diet, and exercising. With therapy and a healthier lifestyle, you can control your heart failure and live a productive life.
Let us check your heart
Tri-City Cardiology has a team of doctors who specializes in the heart. Never ignore the symptoms of heart failure! Let us help you live a healthy life with our latest treatments. Contact us today for a consultation.