Don't Give Up On a Heart That's Giving Out
If you have been told by your doctor that you have "heart failure," that doesn't mean that your heart has, well, failed. It does mean, however, that the heart muscle does not pump effectively. It may have stretched out of its normal size and shape. It may have stiffened over time and has to work harder to keep blood flowing through the heart valves and chambers.
Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, can be caused by any number of things, but usually it is related to heart disease: high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, atrial fibrillation or previous heart attack. People who have diabetes are more at risk of heart disease overall, including heart failure. But there are several other health conditions that may cause heart failure, including:
Symptoms of heart failure can be similar to some of the symptoms of a heart attack, but without the dramatic chest pain or discomfort. Usually, signs of heart failure are related to a buildup of fluid in the body, such as:
- Rapid weight gain
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in the hands, feet, legs or stomach
If you've been diagnosed with heart failure, you and your doctor will work on a plan of medications and diet that will cut down on the fluid buildup in your body. This will make it easier for your heart to do its job. A low-salt diet is key to this goal as well, and a registered dietitian can teach you how to modify your food and meal choices. Most patients can even continue to exercise or begin a new exercise routine.
With medications and an improved diet, patients with heart failure can continue to lead long, full lives. For more information about heart failure, visit the American Heart Association’s website.
Like all forms of heart disease, however, prevention is the best medicine. If any members of your family have had heart failure, a heart attack, stroke or other heart condition, make sure your doctor knows. He or she can help reduce your own risk of heart problems later in life.
Franciscan Health offers low-cost heart, vascular and lung screenings at several of its hospitals. For more information and locations, visit FranciscanHealth.org and search for "heart scan."