The numbers are staggering. According to the American Heart Association, more than 6 million Americans are living with heart failure, and over 900,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.
“The condition is prevalent among seniors, especially those with underlying heart conditions or other medical problems such as diabetes and hypertension,” said Ki Hassler, D.O., a board-certified cardiologist with South County Heart Center and chief of staff at Venice Regional Bayfront Health.
“Heart failure is serious, but patients can manage the condition without surgery,” said Dr. Hassler. “Early diagnosis, lifestyle changes and proper medication allow many people to live full, productive lives without surgical intervention.”
The key, she said, is becoming a full partner with your cardiologist and the team of other specialists that may be involved in your ongoing care.
What is heart failure?
The term “heart failure” makes it sound like the heart is no longer working at all and there’s nothing that can be done. Actually, heart failure means that the heart either isn’t pumping as well as it should be or isn’t relaxing appropriately to allow blood to enter from the lungs. Congestive heart failure can be an acute condition, where patients accumulate excess fluid in the lining of the lungs, or a chronic condition, which requires ongoing medication adjustments to keep symptoms from getting worse.
Your body depends on the heart’s pumping action to deliver oxygen- and nutrient-
rich blood to the body’s cells. When the cells are nourished properly, the body can function normally. With heart failure, the weakened heart can’t supply the cells with enough blood. This results in fatigue and shortness of breath, and some people experience a chronic cough. Everyday activities such as walking, climbing stairs or carrying groceries can become very difficult.
Most people who develop heart failure have (or had) another heart condition first. The most common conditions that can lead to heart failure are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and previous heart attack.
“If you’ve been diagnosed with one of these conditions, it’s critical that you work with your doctor to manage it carefully to help prevent the onset of heart failure,” Dr. Hassler said.
Symptoms and treatment
By themselves, any one sign of heart failure may not be cause for alarm. But if you have more than one of these symptoms, even if you haven’t been diagnosed with any heart problems, report them to a healthcare professional and ask for an evaluation of your heart.
• Shortness of breath
• Persistent coughing or wheezing
• Buildup of excess fluid in body tissues (edema)
• Unusual fatigue
• Lack of appetite or nausea
• Impaired thinking
• Increased heart rate
Treatment may include lifestyle changes, medication, devices and surgical procedures, and ongoing care. Following recommendations about diet, exercise and other habits can help to alleviate symptoms, slow your disease’s progression and improve your everyday life. In fact, people with mild to moderate heart failure often can lead nearly normal lives as a result.
Dr. Hassler stresses the teamwork involved in providing proper care for heart failure patients. The primary care doctor is the first in line to help you monitor your condition and direct you to specialists you may need. A cardiologist, clinical nurse specialists, physical and occupational therapists, dietitians and mental health professionals work in concert to help patients manage their condition. If surgery is required, other specialists become involved.
“We have extremely low rehospitalization rates for heart failure patients at Venice Regional, and I believe it’s largely due to this team approach,” said Dr. Hassler.
Venice Regional’s cardiac care has been recognized with notable quality awards, including the American Heart Association’s Get With The Guidelines® – Stroke Gold Plus Quality and Heart Failure Silver Awards.
For more information about heart failure, call 941-485-7711 or visit veniceregional.com.
Information from the American Heart Association (heart.org) was used in this report.