Feeling broken-hearted after being spared Cupid’s arrow this Valentine’s Day? Keep your chin up, it’s Heart Failure Awareness Week! So let’s take a look at the basics of a truly broken heart.
Heart failure is a condition affecting 6 million Americans. It is usually a result of other heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure or previous heart attack. Although we are at higher risk of developing heart failure simply by getting older, managing these other heart conditions first is very important to reduce our risk.
Although some believe the heart is the source of emotions and the soul (and years ago scholars would agree), it’s most importantly a pump. The heart pumps blood throughout the body to deliver fresh oxygen from the lungs and to remove carbon dioxide and wastes from the body. When the heart is unable to pump as effectively as the body demands, this is called heart failure. Heart failure does not mean that the heart is not working at all, rather that it’s not meeting the body’s expectations. When this starts to happen, the heart muscle gets bigger to increase its power, and it begins to pump faster. This is called compensation. When these methods are no longer effective, symptoms will start to show.
Symptoms of heart failure include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic coughing or wheezing
- Swelling of the feet or ankles
- High heart rate
- Nausea or loss of appetite
Although heart failure is often thought of as a condition affecting older adults, children and young adults can develop heart failure as well due to structural heart defects or certain infections. Symptoms of heart failure in infants or children can be trouble breathing, poor feeding or growth or excessive sweating.
Heart failure is divided into 4 functional classes: Class I-Mild, Class II-Mild, Class III-Moderate and Class IV-Severe. In early mild heart failure there is no limitation in physical activity. In Class II mild heart failure, the individual will begin to experience fatigue, palpitations, difficulty breathing or chest pain during ordinary activity. Moderate heart failure, Class III, results in the same symptoms with less than ordinary activity. Lastly, in Severe Class IV heart failure, symptoms may be present at rest and the individual is unable to carry out any physical activity without discomfort.
The process of heart failure begins before symptoms start to show, but by following a low sodium diet, taking prescribed medications and following your specific recommendations, the progression of the condition can be slowed. To monitor for a worsening, or exacerbation, of heart failure it is important to obtain a daily weight. This will monitor for fluid build up in the body. Weight should be taken at the same time, on the same scale, usually before breakfast. For a weight increase of 2-3 pounds over 24 hours, or 5 pounds or more in a week, be sure to call your doctor. Also watch for increased swelling in the legs or belly, increased fatigue or shortness of breath and decreased urinary output.
Unfortunately there is no cure for heart failure. Treatment is focused on management with a healthy lifestyle and consistent use of any prescribed medications. By working toward a healthier lifestyle you can slow the progression of heart failure by preventing further damage. Check out this helpful link from the American Heart Association to find out ways to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
As always, thanks for checking in! Stop by next week to close out American Heart Month with a look at Diabetes and its effect on the risk for heart disease.