What We Can Do About the Changing Nature of Heart Failure
Prevention & Treatment Heart failure, a condition in which the heart is too weak to pump blood sufficiently throughout the body, is on the rise in the United States. But why?
The latest statistics from the American Heart Association show that more than 8 million people will be living with heart failure by 2030. While that number may be alarming, the fact is, much of that increase can be attributed to medical advances that have improved survival rates of heart attacks and other conditions that can lead to heart failure.
What to watch for
The ability to treat this condition, restore health and quality of life, extend life and, most importantly, prevent this condition is more robust now than ever. Prevention is a key consideration, as 1 of every 5 adults alive at age 40 will develop heart failure during their lifetime. Knowing the signs and symptoms of heart failure is critical. The earlier someone seeks care for heart failure, the better their chances are of living a longer, more active life.
Heart failure symptoms may include difficulty breathing, persistent coughing or wheezing, fatigue, nausea, confusion, increased heart rate or swelling of the feet, ankles and legs. People experiencing more than one of these symptoms should talk with their doctor and ask for an evaluation of their heart.
Ways to improve
There is usually no cure for heart failure, but it can be managed with strategies to help improve symptoms — and, with increasing frequency, improvement in the heart as well. A patient’s treatment plan may include lifestyle changes. Certain lifestyle changes can help alleviate symptoms, slow disease progression and improve everyday life. These changes could include quitting smoking, losing or maintaining weight, eating a heart healthy diet, being physically active, managing stress and getting adequate rest.
“It’s important that patients and caregivers work with their health care team to understand the medications and how they should be taken”
It is also very important for patients with heart failure to regularly monitor their symptoms and report any changes to their health care team. This may involve daily weigh-ins to track water retention, closely watching swelling and monitoring changes in ability to exercise. Heart failure patients often need multiple medications to treat different symptoms and contributing factors, and reduce the impact of adverse factors. Several devices to control the heart’s rhythm or measure pressures in the circulation are available as well, and provide important benefits. It’s important that patients and caregivers work with their health care team to understand the medications and how they should be taken, when and in what amounts. Understanding the devices is equally important and improves the treatment experience.
Surgery is an occasional option used to treat heart failure, but it is sometimes recommended when a doctor can identify a correctable problem that's causing heart failure, such as a congenital defect, valve abnormality or blocked coronary artery. When heart failure is advanced, the use of an artificial pump to sustain the circulation or heart transplantation to replace the failing heart can be done today, with much less risk than ever before and improved outcomes.The most important thing for patients to do is to work closely with a physician and follow their advice.
Research today is pointing to new directions to restore the heart’s function, capture early warning signs and create highly personalized treatment plans. There is no reason to ever again accept failure as a diagnosis. With the right team in place exercising best care options, nearly everyone with this condition can now thrive.