It has been called a condition of epic proportions. The incidence heart failure is alarmingly rising, affecting at least 6.5 million adults in the U.S. The prevalence of heart failure among adults older than 20 is expected to increase 46% by 2030.1
Also called congestive heart failure, this condition simply means your heart is struggling to pump enough oxygen-rich blood to support your body’s other organs. Your heart still works, just not as well.
Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition. Without treatment and lifestyle changes, your heart function will continue to worsen. In 2017, heart failure was a contributing cause of 1 in 8 deaths.2
There is much you can do to prevent or improve heart failure.
Start with these five essential ways to raise your grade.
1. The heart generally does not fail on its own. Usually another condition damages the heart or its ability to pump blood. Lifestyle factors can also play a role. If any of the followings apply to you, work with your health care provider to manage the conditions or risk factors, and minimize damage to your heart:
- Coronary artery disease
- High blood pressure
- Heart valve disorders
- Congenital heart defects
- Heart attack
Non-heart related causes
- Longstanding alcohol abuse or drug abuse
- Thyroid disorders
- Severe anemia
- Cancer treatments (chemotherapy)
2. Heart failure does not happen out of the blue. Early diagnosis and treatment can minimize the damage and improve your overall condition.
Symptoms to watch for include:
- Shortness of breath during daily activities
- Difficulty breathing when lying down
- Sudden weight gain with swelling in the feet, legs, ankles, stomach
- Excessive fatigue or weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Persistent cough
- Irregular pulse
- Heart palpitations
- Protruding neck veins
A physical exam is the first step to diagnosis. An echocardiogram is one of the most important and common diagnostic tests. An ECG or EKG (electrocardiogram) is often used to detect abnormal heart rhythms that may cause heart failure. Blood tests may be required to check for certain markers and other diagnostic tools include chest X-rays, MRI, nuclear scan, catheterization or coronary angiogram. A stress exam tests your heart function while exercising and a Holter monitor records your heart electrical activity for 24 to 48 hours.
3. You cannot control everything that leads to heart failure, but you can improve habits that cause or worsen heart failure.
Things you can do, starting today, include:
- Limiting alcohol
- Quitting smoking
- Managing stress
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Getting adequate sleep
- Taking care of your overall health
4. You can be considered pre-heart failure (stage A) if you have a family history of heart failure or a history of one or more of these medical conditions:
- Coronary artery disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- History of alcohol abuse
- History of rheumatic fever
- Family history of cardiomyopathy
- History of taking drugs that can cause heart muscle damage (some cancer drugs)
You can also be considered pre-heart failure (stage B) if you have been diagnosed with systolic left ventricular dysfunction but you have not had heart failure symptoms. If you fall into either of these categories, be sure to follow your provider’s recommendations.
5. Heart failure is considered a chronic, progressive condition. Short of a heart transplant, it cannot be cured. Fortunately, much progress is being made in how heart failure is treated and managed – often for years. Treatment options include:
- Medications (lower blood pressure, slow heart rate)
- Device implantation (pacemakers, defibrillators, heart monitors)
- Artificial heart pumps (left ventricular assist device – LVAD)
- Valve repair surgery
- Heart transplant
It is important to take medications regularly and follow your treatment plan carefully. Things you may be asked to do include following a low-sodium diet, reducing fluid intake, weighing yourself regularly to monitor fluid retention and getting regular physical activity. Remember, your heart health depends on you.