February is recognized as American Heart Month, and there is no better time to consider the health of your heart. Heart disease is the #1 killer in United States. Each year approximately 700,000 people die from heart disease, which accounts for 29% of all deaths in the United States. The second week of February focuses on a specific form of heart disease, known as “heart failure”.
Heart failure affects over 5 million people in the United States. Another 550,000 people are diagnosed each year. Heart failure may become a debilitating condition. So getting appropriate diagnosis, treatment, and good follow-up is essential.
Some might think that heart failure is simply having a heart attack or that the heart stops beating, but really, it is when the heart is not pumping or relaxing normally. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, activity intolerance, fatigue, and swelling in ankles, legs and/or abdomen.
Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot adequately pump enough blood throughout the body. Without enough blood, organs cannot function at an optimal level. Heart failure can be caused by several of the following conditions:
- Coronary artery disease
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- Congenital birth defects
- Damaged heart valves
- Unknown cause (idiopathic), may be genetic, or viral
- Excessive alcohol use or use of illicit drugs
- Other risks include:
Heart Failure Tips
Heart failure can often be prevented! By preventing and treating the conditions listed above, coupled with exercise and a good diet, you can prevent heart failure. It is recommended that you participate in moderate physical activity at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week. A low fat diet is recommended, including whole grains, and a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. See a health care provider for advice on health maintenance and if any symptoms develop.
What if I have symptoms? Only a doctor can tell you if you have heart failure. When you visit the doctor they will take a complete medical history and give you a physical exam. They may also order a test called an “echo” (echocardiogram), or ultrasound of the heart that will give your doctor information on your heart’s function. There are several other common tests that your doctor may order.
What if I have been diagnosed with heart failure? Patients with heart failure can still lead a good life, as long as they take care of themselves and their condition. Following your doctor’s orders is essential. Limit your intake of salts, take all medications as prescribed and exercise as recommended. It is also important to visit your doctor frequently and inform him or her if your symptoms change or worsen.
Fore more information, visit the American Heart Association.