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What is heart failure?

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What is heart failure?

Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure affects over 6.5 million people and is the leading cause of hospital admissions in adults over the age of 65. Heart failure is a chronic and progressive disease that means your heart isn’t pumping well and is unable to provide the body everything it needs.

There are two types of heart failure. The type of heart failure you have is classified by the pumping function of your heart. It is important to determine which type of heart failure you have as your treatment plan and medications will be tailored to your diagnosis. The first type of heart failure is called heart failure with reduced ejection fraction which means your heart muscle has weakened and is unable to pump enough oxygen to the body when it squeezes. The second type is heart failure with preserved ejection fraction which means your heart muscle is strong, but it is too thick or stiff to squeeze the blood out to the body.

Tests that your doctor may perform to diagnose heart failure include: blood work, EKG (heart rhythm tracing), echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), chest x-ray, cardiac stress test, 6 minute walk test, or a coronary angiogram.

A common cause of heart failure is heart disease such as a heart attack or having coronary artery bypass surgery. Other causes include hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiomyopathy (weak heart muscle), congenital heart disease, cardiac arrhythmias (such as atrial fibrillation), valvular heart disease (stiff or leaky heart valves), diabetes, kidney disease, obesity, and certain medications can all cause heart failure.

Individuals with heart failure may have no symptoms at all or may have severe symptoms. Symptoms can come and go. Signs that you should be alerted to include shortness of breath, having to sleep upright, a persistent cough or wheezing, swelling in your legs, ankles, or abdomen, rapid weight gain, confusion, fatigue, and lack of appetite.

Take action today. You can take control of your heart failure by watching your sodium (salt) intake and being aware of foods that are high in sodium such as frozen dinners, bread, soup, and cheese. Spices are great alternatives to flavor your favorite meal. Staying active can keep you healthy and feeling better also! Physical activity strengthens your heart muscle and will help you achieve new goals. Be aware of your symptoms and know when to seek help. Just like any other chronic disease, it is important to understand your medications and not miss a dose.