When it comes to heart health, we often hear about heart attacks and heart disease. But heart failure affects more than 6 million Americans. How much do you know about this condition?
Let’s dispel one common misconception right off the bat. If you’re diagnosed with heart failure, it doesn’t mean your heart is going to immediately stop working.
Heart failure generally represents a gradual, progressive failure, not a sudden one—and in most cases, those who have the condition can live long, high-quality lives.
According to Ugochukwu O. Egolum, MD, FACC, chief of cardiology and medical director of NGHS’ Advanced Heart Failure Program, these are 8 important facts you should know about heart failure:
- Heart failure occurs when your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. This can happen for multiple reasons—your heart may not fill up with enough blood or your heart may be too weak to pump properly.
- Heart failure can be either acute or chronic. Acute heart failure develops quickly, while chronic heart failure is more common, occurring over a period of time. Interestingly enough, heart failure may also affect one side of your heart or both.
- Your body will try to make up for heart failure. When your heart is unable to pump enough blood, your heart will attempt to compensate by getting bigger, developing more heart muscle or pumping faster. Your blood vessels may also narrow to try to keep your blood pressure up, and your body may divert blood away from certain organs and tissues.
- As your body compensates for heart failure, you’ll experience symptoms. At first, the reactions described above may help your heart, but they don’t solve the underlying issue. Eventually, the body will be unable to keep up, which is when you may first notice symptoms.
- Extreme fatigue is a common first symptom of heart failure. Because your body is trying to compensate for the heart’s inability to pump effectively, it will tire out more easily. You may also feel weak, have difficulty breathing even when resting, experience shortness of breath during normal activities, gain weight or have swelling in the abdomen, feet, legs or ankles.
- Heart failure is often caused by some other type of heart health issue. Common causes include heart attack, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, illicit drug use, heart inflammation and arrhythmia. Diabetes can also be a contributing factor.
- Certain risk factors make a person more likely to develop heart failure. Along with the heart health conditions outlined above, other risk factors, like being overweight or obese, not getting enough physical activity, eating a diet high in saturated fat and sodium, drinking too much alcohol or smoking, can increase the likelihood of developing heart failure. Beyond those changeable factors, you’re also at a higher risk if you’re age 65 or older, a person of color or male.
- There are physicians that specialize in diagnosing and treating heart failure. Once you’re diagnosed with heart failure, it’s a condition that you’ll live with for the rest of your life. That’s why it’s extremely important to fully understand what the diagnosis means and to develop an effective, long-term treatment plan with an expert. Heart failure cardiologists solely focus on this chronic and serious heart condition, which means they’re specially-trained to identify it in the earliest most treatable stage, while also knowing the most innovative treatment options available for every stage of disease. From medications and lifestyle changes to clinical trials and procedures, all heart failure treatment is designed to limit stress on your heart and allow it to function at its best for as long as possible.
Thriving With Heart Failure
With one of the most established and innovative heart failure programs in the state, The Heart Center of NGMC continues to develop and grow this important specialty. With a specialized and dedicated team of heart failure experts, you’ll receive comprehensive and personalized care to live your healthiest life with heart failure. Learn more about how our Advanced Heart Failure Program is leading the way in care!