Heart Failure Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does

Heart Failure

Heart Failure is a common condition that can be caused by a heart attack, long-term high blood pressure, a heart valve abnormality, a viral infection of the heart or a genetic condition that runs in families.


Although the term “heart failure” sounds ominous, it does not mean that the heart has stopped or is about to stop suddenly. Heart failure means that the heart is not pumping blood as well as it should through its chambers to the rest of the body. It is a common condition that can be caused by a heart attack, long-term high blood pressure, a heart valve abnormality, a viral infection of the heart or a genetic condition that runs in families. Sometimes the exact cause of heart failure is not known.

If allowed to progress without treatment, heart failure has a great impact on quality of life and can shorten life expectancy. In the United States, it is the single most frequent cause of hospitalization for people over age 65, and more people die from heart failure than from all forms of cancer combined.

It is important that patients with heart failure learn how to take good care of themselves. By educating patients, those at risk and their families, the Heart Failure Society of America (HFSA) is committed to providing reliable and up-to-date information about heart failure.

“People with heart failure can lead relatively normal, active lives. The key is early diagnosis and treatment,” says Dr. Barry Greenberg, chairman of the HFSA’s education committee, and the director of the Advanced Heart Failure Treatment Program at the University of California, San Diego. New treatments can be very effective in slowing and stopping the progression of the disease, and in some cases can even reverse the process.

Symptoms of heart failure include:
* Feeling tired
* Congestion
* Shortness of breath, which can happen even during mild activity
* Swelling in the feet and legs from fluid retention (results in weight gain)
* Cough with frothy sputum
* Difficulty breathing when lying down which may wake patients from sleep at night

Those diagnosed with heart failure should work with a doctor to develop a treatment plan and to follow it. Proper medications in the right doses, careful monitoring and self-care are the basis of effectively managing heart failure.

Most people with heart failure require several medicines for to achieve the best results. Two of the most common medicines used to treat heart failure are ACE inhibitors and beta blockers. Both of these medicines block the effects of harmful stress hormones produced by the body that can make heart failure worse. Diuretics (water pills) are often used to reduce excess fluid. Other medications used for the treatment of heart failure include angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs), aldosterone antagonists and a new combination pill of hydralazine and isosorbide dinitrate that was recently approved by the FDA for treatment of African Americans with heart failure.

There is also evidence that device therapy can favorably affect the clinical course of heart failure patient. The addition of an implantable cardioverter/defibrillator (ICD) and/or biventricular (BiV) pacemaker to medical therapy is now recommended in many heart failure patients.

In addition to taking medicines exactly as directed, people with heart failure should:
* Weigh themselves every day
* Follow a low-sodium (salt) diet
* Get regular physical activity
* Quit smoking
* Avoid alcohol or drink sparingly
* Control body weight
* Monitor symptoms and learn when to consult a doctor or nurse

Friends and family members can help by learning about heart failure and participating in the patient’s treatment plan. The Heart Failure Society of America provides educational materials written in easy to understand language.

These materials include information on following a low-sodium diet and a description of medicines and devices used to treat heart failure. There’s also advice on how to become more active and manage emotional stress, as well as tips about advance care planning and how to evaluate claims about new treatments and cures.

You can visit abouthf.org to download a copy or to leave a request to have a complimentary set of materials sent to you.

Courtesy of ARA Content

Photo: Patrick J. Lynch

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