Ask The Doctor – Heart Failure
My mom was diagnosed with heart failure. Are there signs I should watch for with my health that would indicate I, too, could have heart failure?
The short answer is yes; there are signs that can indicate you could also have heart failure. However, no two cases of heart failure are the same, and the severity of the symptoms depends on how much of the heart’s pumping capacity may have been lost or damaged.
If you have a family history of heart disease or experience some or all of the following symptoms, you should talk to your provider about your risk for heart failure. The signs to watch for include: shortness of breath, which can occur during physical exertion or at rest; weight gain; swollen legs, ankles, and, occasionally, the abdomen (caused by fluid retention); fatigue and weakness; nausea and loss of appetite; persistent cough, often producing mucus or blood-tinged sputum; and reduced urination.
Heart failure occurs when the heart is overstressed or damaged, which happens for many different reasons. Certain congenital birth defects can cause heart failure, and the disease can arise due to other conditions such as heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias) and defective heart valves.
An unhealthy lifestyle can also bring on the symptoms of heart failure. Some of the unhealthy lifestyle things you might do that contribute to or cause heart failure could include: smoking, eating foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol foods, consuming too much salt, failing to exercise regularly, and abusing alcohol or drugs.
Every organ in your body relies on an uninterrupted blood flow to stay healthy. Heart failure occurs when an underlying problem restricts your heart’s ability to pump out blood efficiently and meet the needs of your body, which means seeking proper treatment is key to living with heart failure.
Proper treatment can improve the signs and symptoms of heart failure and can help you live longer. One way to prevent heart failure is to prevent and control the conditions that cause it, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
It’s important to remember that a heart failure diagnosis is not a death sentence. If you are diagnosed with heart failure, your goal should be to find a team that can help you create a treatment regimen that accommodates your specific needs and preferences for the severity of your heart failure.
Living a heart-healthy lifestyle can also help prevent the conditions that cause heart failure. If you are at risk for heart disease, you should talk to your provider and consider making changes to your lifestyle, like losing weight, exercising, reducing sodium in your diet, and managing your stress levels. You can also talk to your primary care provider about your medical history and your family’s medical history to determine what lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent heart failure.
(The information provided in this column is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.)