When The Heart Has Become A Weak Pump

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DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 79 and have congestive heart failure with some high blood pressure. Please give the information you have on my illness. — F.W.

ANSWER: Congestive heart failure is a common illness in older people. Up to 10 percent of those older than 65 have it or have had it. The meaning is that the heart has become so weak that it can’t pump enough blood to support all body organs and tissues. You can call it just heart failure. The “congestive” word confuses people.

The signs of a weakened heart are breathlessness when trying to do even relatively easy physical tasks, along with a feeling that all energy has left the body. A third sign is swelling, most often of the feet and ankles. The lungs also fill with fluid from backed-up blood, and that adds to the breathing difficulty. The lungs are congested with fluid.

Clogged heart arteries, heart-valve problems, a previous heart attack, a former viral heart infection and uncontrolled high blood pressure are some of the causes of heart failure. Aging is a major cause. The heart is beginning to wear out.

This sounds hopeless; it isn’t. Plenty can be done. For one, reduce the amount of salt and salty foods that you eat. Salt causes fluid retention in the body. Water pills (diuretics) remove excess body fluid, and they’re a constant part of treatment. Drugs called ACE inhibitors not only regulate blood pressure, but they also ease heart failure. This is only a sample of the drugs that are useful for the treatment of this condition.

Once under treatment, you ought to be breathing with ease and feel a return of pep. An exercise program is then possible and essential for treatment. The program is one that should be devised by your doctor. Walking is an excellent way to strengthen both body and heart muscles.

The booklet on congestive heart failure provides detailed information on the condition and its treatment. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 103W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My eyes are colored dark brown. I am a 57-year-old female. Around the edges of my brown eyes is a blue border — something new. The eye doctor said it means my cholesterol is high. My family doctor said it is fine, and it happens with age. Have you heard of this? What causes it? — D.E.

ANSWER: I believe you’re describing an arcus senilis. It’s an off-white (bluish or gray) circle looping around the colored iris. Actually it’s a deposit of fat and cholesterol in the cornea, the clear covering that lies over the iris and pupil. At one time, it was thought to indicate high blood cholesterol; it doesn’t.

It’s one of those many adornments of aging that come for no good reason. If you start looking at the eyes of older people, you’ll find that you are far from the only one with arcus senilis.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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