What You Need to Know About Heart Failure

Doctor drawing ecg heartbeat chart with marker on whiteboard concept for healthcare and medicine

Some 6.5 million Americans are living with heart failure, and nearly a million new cases are diagnosed each year. Despite its prevalence, heart failure symptoms are largely under-recognized, in part because people don’t understand the condition. Find out more about heart failure, and the warnings signs you should be mindful of here.

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a serious, chronic condition in which the heart muscle is weakened and cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen. Heart failure does not mean that your heart has stopped or is about to stop working. It means that your heart is not able to pump blood the way it should. Heart failure is sometimes described as having a weak heart.

Heart failure is also associated with a lower five-year survival rate following hospital discharge than some cancers (e.g., breast cancer in women and bowel cancer in men).

Is heart failure different than having a heart attack?

Heart failure and heart attack are both serious conditions under the umbrella term of cardiovascular disease, but are very different from each other. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked, starving part of the heart from oxygen. Heart failure on the other hand, is a slower, more progressive condition that can be silent as the heart muscle is gradually weakened, until the point where it can no longer pump blood around the body, as it should. Heart failure can be managed with a low-salt diet, regular physical activity, and medication.

What increases the risk of having heart failure? 

The risk of developing heart failure increases with age. But anyone can develop the condition, which is serious and chronic.

Heart failure is more common in:

  • People who are 65 or older. Individuals also may have had conditions for many years that led to heart failure, such as high blood pressure and obesity.
  • African-Americans are at increased risk of heart failure and may develop the condition at a younger age.
  • People who have certain behaviors including smoking, eating foods high in salt, fat and cholesterol, not getting enough physical activity, or being overweight.
  • People who have had coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and/or have had heart attacks.

If you relate with any of the above risk factors, it is critical that you adjust your lifestyle to help prevent or manage heart failure. It is important to talk with your healthcare provider about your risk of heart failure.

How can I recognize the symptoms of heart failure?

The warning signs and symptoms of heart failure can be obvious, such as sudden weight gain. But oftentimes they can be subtle and under recognized. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath with everyday activities, like walking the dog or climbing a flight of stairs. Sometimes people purposely avoid taking the stairs so they don’t have to feel this symptom.
  • Swelling in legs, feet and ankles, which can feel like your shoes or socks are too tight.
  • Trouble sleeping when lying flat, such as needing to sleep with more than one pillow.
  • Feeling tired from simple activities, such as exhaustion from making the bed or getting the mail.
  • Rapid weight gain, such as 3 or more pounds in a day or 5 pounds or more in a week.

You need to speak with your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms.

What lifestyle changes may help me manage heart failure?

Heart failure can be managed through proper lifestyle changes, including an eating low salt diet and getting in regular physical activities as well as taking medication. The good news is guideline-recommended treatment options have been updated, and patients should speak with their doctor to determine whether their current regimen is still right for them.

Go to US.KeepItPumping.com to learn more about heart failure.