Since I joined a club I never wanted to be a part of...people with cardiac issues...I've learned a lot about the subject. And I have barely scratched the surface. One of the areas I'm learning about it heart failure.
What is heart failure exactly?
Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is unable to pump as well as it once did. I've met several women whose hearts were functioning well (or so they thought) until they experienced their cardiac event. After the event, they find themselves in "heart failure".
Anytime you're told something in your body is failing, especially something as essential as your heart, you worry. But what does it mean to be in heart failure? Are you given a death sentence? The answer is it doesn't have to be a death sentence.
There are many issues connected to heart failure, that are often within your control:
- high blood pressure
- uncontrolled diabetes
- untreated coronary artery disease
- prior heart attack
- illicit drug abuse
- alcohol abuse
- myocarditis often caused by a virus
- cardiomyopathy damage to the heart muscle
- defective heart valves
- side effects from some chemotherapies
- congenital heart defect
- hypo- or hyper-thyroidism
Heart failure can come on suddenly as the result of a cardiac event (acute) or it can develop gradually over time (chronic).
- shortness of breath, either during exertion or inactivity
- weakness and fatigue
- swelling in lower extremities
- irregular heart beat
- raspy, wheezing cough with white or blood tinged phlegm
- increased nighttime urination
- swelling in the belly
- rapid fluid buildup
- loss of appetite and nausea
- brain fog and difficulty concentrating
- sudden severe shortness of breath
- chest pain if the heart failure is from a heart attack
- sleep apnea
- tobacco use
More than the heart
When you develop heart failure, the heart isn't the only organ affected. Other organs may be impacted:
- kidney damage ultimately requiring dialysis
- heart valve problems can occur when the heart is enlarged or the internal pressure is high
- liver failure from too much pressure causing scarring in the liver
Heart failure can be treated with medication or even the implantation of a medical device. In severe cases, heart transplant may be needed.
Heart failure is often preventable with some lifestyle revisions. You can control many of the risk factors and you should manage them if any apply to you. You can mitigate the risk factors for many chronic illnesses, including many forms of cardiovascular disease, with some simple changes:
- don't smoke
- control high blood pressure and diabetes
- be active not sedentary
- consume a healthy diet
- manage stress
- manage weight
Heart failure doesn't have to be a death sentence. If you are vigilant about maintaining a healthy lifestyle with minimal stress, plenty of rest, eating healthy foods and daily body movement, you can minimize your risk and strengthen your heart.
Always follow your doctor's advice but if you don't understand why they're asking you to do something, ask a question. Make sure you know why you're doing what they tell you and what the expected outcome is.
Much of the prevention for so many illnesses is within your control. If you need help navigating, I'm happy to be of service.
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