When the heart fails, it doesn’t quit altogether. Instead, the heart isn’t pumping as well as it should be, meaning that the body may not be getting the oxygen it needs.
Heart failure, as defined by the American Heart Association, “is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen.”
This disease is “very common,” said Mir Rauf Subla, MD, FACC, FSCAI, an interventional cardiologist with Trinity Health. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 6.2 million adults in the United States have heart failure.
There are certain medical conditions that can increase risk for heart failure, including coronary artery disease, diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), obesity, other conditions related to heart disease, and valvular heart disease, although Dr. Subla noted that hypertension is the most common cause.
The risk of heart failure can be increased by unhealthy behaviors, especially for those who have one of the medical conditions mentioned above. Those unhealthy behaviors include smoking tobacco; eating foods high in fat, cholesterol, and sodium; not getting enough physical activity; and/or excessive alcohol intake.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the most common symptoms of heart failure to track are:
- Any shortness of breath and any worsening in your ability to do your regular activities.
- Your heart rate: To make up for the loss in pumping ability, your heart may start to beat faster. This can lead to heart palpitations. You may feel like your heart is racing or throbbing.
- Many people are first alerted to worsening heart failure when they notice a weight gain of more than two or three pounds in a 24-hour period or more than five pounds in a week. It’s a good idea to track your weight and check in with your doctor if you notice sudden changes. Make sure you know the amount of weight gain your healthcare provider considers to be a problem for you.
- Any swelling from fluids collecting in your body – most often in the ankles, lower legs, and feet – and especially if you notice any increase in swelling.
- Blood pressure: It’s important to track blood pressure and to know your numbers.
- Changes in the makeup of your blood, such as the amount of sodium (too much) or oxygen (too little), can result in confusion or changes to your mental state. You may have some memory loss or worsening symptoms of depression or sadness, which may be related to changes in your body’s ability to compensate for the heart failure. These symptoms may be first noticed by others in your family, so it may be helpful to invite their feedback.
Should a person feel any of these symptoms, “they should talk to their primary care physician and get an echocardiogram (EKG) done,” Dr. Subla said. “Then, if they have problems, (they should) go to their cardiologist.” There, he added, “we evaluate the symptoms and do various blood tests and stress tests, if needed. Depending on the cause, it can be cured.”
With medication and lifestyle changes, steps can be taken to manage heart failure, Dr. Subla said, advising that the best ways to avoid heart failure are to quit smoking (or never start), eat a diet low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium; and, if it is safe for the patient to exercise, get at least 60 minutes of aerobic activity daily.
While heart failure is not necessarily fatal, Dr. Subla noted that about 10 percent of individuals diagnosed with heart failure die within 30 days. He added that 20 to 30 percent live one year, and 45 to 50 percent live five years.
Trinity Health Cardiology includes Valentine Chikwendu, MD; Ahmad Daraghmeh, MD; Mir Rauf Subla, MD; Samir Turk, MD; and Amanda Weidler, FNP-C. Their offices are located at Health Center – Medical Arts, 400 Burdick Expy E, Minot. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 701-857-7388.