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Being aware of heart failure causes and symptoms

Dr. Karen G. Cloninger

Next week, February 12-18, is National Heart Failure Awareness Week so this article will focus on information about heart failure that you hopefully will find helpful.

Heart failure is a common condition that usually develops slowly as the heart becomes stiff or weak such that it has to work harder to fill with blood or pump blood through the body.

Heart failure affects nearly 5 million people in the United States with over 400,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

Heart failure does NOT mean that the heart has stopped or is about to stop and is not the same as a heart attack.

However some people develop heart failure after their heart has been damaged by a heart attack.

Other causes of heart failure include high blood pressure, diabetes, heart valve problems, infection of the heart muscle, drinking too much alcohol for a long period of time, and sometimes no specific cause can be identified.

A recent study showed that there are four lifestyle practices that can lower your risk of developing heart failure.  Maintaining a normal body weight (body mass index — BMI — of less than 25), consuming vegetables at least three times a week, abstaining from smoking and moderate to high physical activity can significantly lower the risk of heart failure.

Symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, trouble breathing when lying down, swelling of feet or ankles, and fatigue.

If you have any of these symptoms, only a physician can determine whether you have heart failure or some other reason to explain your symptoms.

There are a number of tests that help determine whether someone has heart failure and if so, the reason for it. Chest x-rays and blood tests can be a starting point.

One of the most important tests to evaluate the heart’s function is an echocardiogram.  This test can measure the ejection fraction or EF, which is a measure of the pumping function of the heart.  The EF of a healthy heart is 50 percent or greater.

If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, there are things that you can do to help keep your heart failure in the best control possible which will help reduce your symptoms and reduce your need for hospitalization.

Limiting your intake of salt and sodium can help decrease fluid retention which can worsen heart failure. It is important that you weigh daily and notify your health care provider if you gain more than 2 pounds in one day or 4 pounds in a week.

This could be a sign that you are retaining fluid. It is important to exercise at levels recommended by your physician to help you stay as fit as possible.  There are combinations of medications that have been proven to improve symptoms, keep heart failure from getting worse and prolong your life.

It is extremely important to take these as prescribed and,if you think you are having side effects, notify your physician immediately.

For the past year, CMC Lincoln has offered a heart failure class once a month.

These are designed especially for individuals with heart failure and their families.

They are FREE and everyone is welcome. The classes are held at CMC Lincoln Medical Office Building in the Oak Classroom on the first floor at 6PM. The February 21 class is CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) for Family and Friends. This is not a certification class but will review Basic CPR.

The March 20 class will discuss nutrition and heart failure.

If you have questions regarding the classes or wish to register, please contact CMC Lincoln Education Department at 980-212-6055.

There is also a wonderful website, www.abouthf.com, that has a set education modules designed for patients with heart failure.

Dr. Karen G. Cloninger works with the Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute at Carolinas Medical Center-Lincolnton.


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