It’s possible you or a loved one could be suffering from one of the most common and often misdiagnosed heart conditions, and not know it.
According to the Heart Failure Society of America, five million Americans are affected by heart failure and many more may have the condition but are unaware. As such, it’s a great time to learn about heart failure and its symptoms, and what to do to stay heart healthy.
Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood. Blood can back up in areas of the body and vital organs eventually shut down.
The most common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease, a narrowing of vessels that deliver blood to the heart, therefore reducing oxygen levels and impairing the heart’s functionality. Other contributors include infection in the heart muscle, valvular heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and age. Adults over 65 are more at risk, as well as those with a history of heart attack or cardiac arrest.
Know the symptoms
Heart failure symptoms vary by age, population and gender, and can start gradually or suddenly. Common symptoms include shortness of breath while active or at rest, fatigue, persistent coughing, heart palpitations, and swelling of the ankles, feet or abdomen. Symptoms become more prominent as the condition advances.
“It’s important to report any symptoms or changes in health status to your physician, no matter how minor you feel they may be,” says Dr. Kevin R. Campbell, a cardiac electrophysiologist who cares for a large population of heart failure patients at Wake Heart & Vascular in North Carolina.
Simple lifestyle changes can help reduce your risks. Daily exercise, a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grain and low-fat proteins, quitting tobacco, and regular health screenings are all helpful.
When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, medicine may help treat symptoms and prevent heart failure from worsening. In some cases, a medical device may help improve a patient’s quality of life. As a last resort, a heart transplant may be necessary.
“Heart failure is the most common cause of hospitalization for patients over age 65 in the U.S. and is the first-listed diagnosis in more than 875,000 hospitalizations each year,” said Dr. Mark Carlson with the Cardiac Rhythm Management Division at St. Jude Medical.
If you believe you have heart failure, make a doctor’s appointment to start monitoring symptoms and determine treatment.
Tips for better heart health
It’s always important to pay attention to matters of the heart — especially those that impact your heart health.
There are simple steps that can be easily incorporated into day-to-day life that can make a big difference, according to Susan J. Crockett, PhD, RD, FADA and leader of the General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition.
“Genetics does play a role in cholesterol and overall heart health,” says Crockett.
To help make your lifestyle more heart-healthy, try to remember Crockett’s “HEART” tips.
• H - Have a list: Keep a running list of health to-dos, such as regular cholesterol and blood pressure screenings, as well as questions for your physician. Find out and jot down foods you can eat to lower cholesterol and other ways to take care of your heart.
• E - Eat more of the “good stuff”: Be conscious of what you are eating and make an effort to incorporate heart healthy foods into your diet.
• A - Aim for more whole grain: When making food choices, look for whole grain oats or whole grain oat cereal that contains beta glucan. Beta glucan is a natural soluble fiber found in oats that helps reduce bad cholesterol. To reduce the risk of heart disease, you need three grams of soluble fiber daily from whole grain oat foods as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
• R - Run, walk, skip, jump: However you choose to exercise, just make sure it is a part of your daily routine.
• T - Try healthy swaps: For instance, instead of full fat mayonnaise, spread smashed avocado on your sandwich, which is high in healthy fats that help your heart.
Also, when eating out, don’t be afraid to ask your server for healthier preparation methods, like steamed and broiled instead of fried.
Taking a few moments each day to make heart healthy decisions can make a significant difference in your future.