The more you know: Heart Failure Edition

Heart failure doesn’t mean your heart suddenly stops; instead, it’s a gradual decline in its pumping efficiency. It can affect the left, right or both sides of the heart, resulting in a range of symptoms and challenges.

Cheri Rogers, NP-C, Heart Failure Clinic
Cheri Rogers, NP-C, Heart Failure Clinic

“Heart failure is a chronic medical condition,” says Cheri Rogers, NP-C, CHFN, with Riverside Heart & Vascular Institute Heart Failure Clinic. “But just because it is a chronic condition does not mean that it is going to take over your life. Working closely with your health care team, we can help you tailor a plan to manage your heart failure effectively, which could bring you a better quality of life.”

Heart failure can be caused by various factors, including coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, valvular heart diseases and infections. Lifestyle choices like smoking, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption can also increase your risk. Your health care team will explore your medical history and risk factors to identify the underlying cause.

“If you think you may be at risk for heart failure, a great place to start is talking with your PCP,” says Rogers. “They can help you understand what could be causing your symptoms by running tests and involving a cardiologist if further testing is needed.”

Read on for five simple facts to help you understand the basics.

1. Heart failure is common.
About 6.2 million adults in the United States have heart failure. By 2030, that number is expected to be 8 million adults. If you have experienced heart failure, you are not alone.

2. Blood tests can diagnose and monitor heart failure.
Your primary care provider (PCP) may ask about your medical and family health history during your physical exam. If heart failure is suspected,
a brain natriuretic peptide test may be ordered. This blood test measures the hormone levels released in your blood if the heart is damaged. You may then be referred to a cardiologist for further testing, depending on the results.

3. Heart failure symptoms change over time.
These are some of the common symptoms, which may not be noticeable at first but worsen over time:

● Weight gain with swelling in the legs and stomach.
● Shortness of breath while active, at rest or lying down.
● Feeling tired and weak.
● Coughing or wheezing that persists.

Heart failure can also slowly develop from chronic medical conditions, such as:

● Irregular heartbeat.
● Coronary artery disease.
● High blood pressure.
● Diabetes.
● Severe lung diseases.
● Obesity.

Heart failure can also occur suddenly, following a heart attack or other event.

4. Treatments for heart failure are effective.
Lifestyle changes, including reducing sodium and liquid intake and getting daily exercise, can help manage symptoms. A treatment plan can include medication, medical devices and surgeries.

5. Healthy choices can prevent or delay heart failure.
Keep your heart healthy by:

● Eating healthy foods.
● Exercising daily.
● Reducing your daily stress.
● Avoiding nicotine and alcohol.

Sources: American Heart Association; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; MedlinePlus; National Institutes of Health

Connect with other heart failure patients and caregivers at Riverside’s Free Heart Failure Support Group. All meetings are free, and walk-ins are welcome! Visit our event summary for dates and topic information.