Heart Failure

Spellman (February 24, 2014) - A diagnosis of "heart failure" means the heart is not pumping the way it should. It has not stopped working entirely, but it is in the process of failing and needs immediate medical attention. A heart that is failing cannot send enough oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, which means other organs can't function either. 

Heart failure occurs when one part of the heart breaks down. For example, if the left side of the heart loses its ability to contract normally, the heart can't pump with enough force to push blood into circulation. If the muscle becomes stiff and cannot relax normally, the heart can't fill with blood between each beat. When blood is not moving in and out the way it should, fluid builds up in the lungs and blood backs up in the body's veins, causing swelling, fatigue, shortness of breath, and kidney problems. 

There is no cure for heart disease, but it can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 5.1 million people in the United States are living with heart failure. The disease costs the nation an estimated $32 billion per year in doctor visits, medication, and lost work time. 

People who have coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes have a higher risk of getting heart failure. Other risk factors include being overweight, smoking, and eating a diet high in fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Pay attention to your body and talk to your doctor immediately if you have any of these early warning signs: 

• Sudden weight gain 
• Shortness of breath while at rest, not related to exercise or exertion
• Swelling in the legs or ankles
• Swelling or pain in the abdomen
• Trouble sleeping, including waking up short of breath or having trouble
breathing when you're lying flat
• Frequent dry, hacking cough at night
• Loss of appetite
• Increased fatigue or feeling tired all the time
• Increased heart rate or heart palpitations

Memorial University Medical Center offers a heart failure program to help people control their heart failure, alleviate symptoms, and slow the progression of the disease. Participants are given assistance to lose weight and quit smoking. They learn to eat a healthy diet, exercise, and monitor their blood pressure. They weigh themselves daily to track fluid changes within the body. They also take multiple medications to control the disease. In some cases, surgery or implantable devices (such as a pacemaker) are also needed. 
The goal of the heart failure program at Memorial University Medical Center is to help people with heart disease gain a sense of control. They learn that by managing their condition, they can continue to lead a fulfilling life. During Heart Month, let's all do our part to protect our hearts and live better. To learn more about the heart failure program at MUMC, call 350-BEAT (2328) or visit memorialhealth.com. 

About the Author:
John Spellman, M.D., FACC
, is a cardiologist at Cardiovascular Consultants. He can be reached 912-355-0070.