Heart failure, often called congestive heart failure, affects nearly 6 million adults in the U.S. and is the number one cause of hospitalization of people over 65 years old. Congestive heart failure refers to blood “congesting” in various parts of the body such as lower extremities, lungs, liver, and abdomen. This occurs when the heart is unable to pump sufficiently to maintain blood flow to meet the body's needs. As you age, your heart muscle becomes less efficient at pumping blood through the body and has to work harder to pump your blood.
Heart failure can be ongoing or may start suddenly. It often develops after other conditions damage your heart, but the heart doesn’t need to be damaged to cause heart failure.Symptoms for heart failure may be non-existent, mild or severe – they can also be consistent or they can come and go.
Warning signs include:
- Shortness of breath, especially when lying down
- Fatigue and weakness
- Congested lungs
- Fluid and water retention
- Confusion or can’t think clearly
Heart failure risk factors include:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Heart attack
- Coronary artery disease
- Irregular heartbeat
- Abnormal heart valves
- Diseases of the heart muscle
- Family history
- Sleep apnea
- Congenital heart defects
- Viral infections
- Alcohol or illicit drug use
- Tobacco use
The goal of treating heart failure is to decrease the progression of the disease, to lessen any symptoms and to improve quality of life. Not all conditions that lead to heart failure can be reversed, but treatment can improve the signs and symptoms and help you live longer.
Careful monitoring of medication and lifestyle are the first steps.
- Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
- Blood vessel dilators
- Aldactone inhibitors
- Heart pump medications
If your condition worsens, physicians specializing in the treatment of heart failure can offer more advanced treatment options, such as surgery or cardiac devices.
Some procedures include:
- Cardiac resynchronization therapy
- Bypass surgery
- Left ventricular assist device (LVAD)
- Heart transplant
- Infarct exclusion surgery
The best way to prevent heart failure is to have a heart healthy lifestyle and control your existing health issues.
- Eat a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meat and whole grains
- Limit sodium
- Regular exercise that raises your heart rate
- Lose excess weight
- Don’t smoke
- Manage health issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes