It’s possible you or a loved one could be suffering from one of the most common and often misdiagnosed heart conditions, and not know it. According to the Heart Failure Society of America, five million Americans are affected by heart failure and many more may have the condition but are unaware. February is National Heart Health Month and it’s a great time to learn about heart failure and its symptoms, and what to do to stay heart healthy.
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Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood. Blood can back up in areas of the body and vital organs eventually shut down.
Common Causes The most common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease, a narrowing of vessels that deliver blood to the heart, therefore reducing oxygen levels and impairing the heart’s functionality.
(c) iStockphoto.com / ClerkenwellImages
Other contributors include infection in the heart muscle, valvular heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and age. Adults over 65 are more at risk, as well as those with a history of heart attack or cardiac arrest.
Know the Symptoms Heart failure symptoms vary by age, population and gender, and can start gradually or suddenly.
Common symptoms include shortness of breath while active or at rest, fatigue, persistent coughing, heart palpitations, and swelling of the ankles, feet or abdomen. Symptoms become more prominent as the condition advances.
Men typically have a higher incidence rate, but it is common for women to downplay symptom severity, leading doctors to under-treat them. “It’s important to report any symptoms or changes in health status to your physician, no matter how minor you feel they may be,” says Dr. Kevin R. Campbell, a cardiac electrophysiologist who cares for a large population of heart failure patients at Wake Heart & Vascular in North Carolina.
“You may not see a correlation between symptoms, but they can signal worsening heart failure to a physician which could be life threatening.” Reduce Risks Simple lifestyle changes can help reduce your risks. Daily exercise, a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grain and low-fat proteins, quitting tobacco, and regular health screenings are all helpful.
When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, medicine may help treat symptoms and prevent heart failure from worsening. In some cases, a medical device may help improve a patient’s quality of life.
Certain kinds of pacemakers can resynchronize a failing heart to improve heart function, while implantable defibrillators can prevent sudden death. As a last resort, a heart transplant may be necessary. “Heart failure is the most common cause of hospitalization for patients over age 65 in the U.S. and is the first-listed diagnosis in more than 875,000 hospitalizations each year,” said Dr. Mark Carlson, chief medical officer in the Cardiac Rhythm Management Division at St. Jude Medical.
“Current device therapy and future devices will improve quality of life for patients, and address an important clinical and health economic problem.” St. Jude Medical is a leading manufacturer of devices that treat heart failure, including cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICD).
A CRT pacemaker helps each side of the heart contract simultaneously to restore pumping ability. An ICD sends an electrical pulse to stop life-threatening heart rhythms and prevents cardiac arrest. If you believe you have heart failure, make a doctor’s appointment to start monitoring symptoms and determine treatment.