The Doctor is In: Understanding Heart Failure

Many people associate the term “heart disease” with strokes
and heart attacks, but nearly 5 million Americans have another serious type of
cardiovascular condition known as heart failure, also known as congestive heart
failure. This leading cause of hospitalizations among adults 65 and older is
believed to cause some 300,000 deaths in the United States each year.

A person diagnosed with heart
failure
has a heart muscle that is beginning to struggle at doing its job
of pumping oxygen-rich blood through the body to nourish our internal organs,
our skin, and our brains. Having this condition does not mean that the heart
muscle in danger of stopping suddenly. The “failure” part means that the heart
is failing to function properly.

I’ve watched this disease progress in one of my neighbors, a
96-year-old widow who has a long history of type 2 diabetes and heart failure.
She was hospitalized recently after experiencing extreme shortness of breath
due to the excessive buildup of fluid in her lungs — one of the hallmark signs
of heart failure. Swelling in the lower legs, ankles, feet, arms or other parts
of the body — a condition called edema — also is common in people with heart
failure. Other symptoms include:

• Persistent wheezing or coughing due to excess fluid in the
lungs
• Extreme fatigue or muscle weakness that makes it difficult to perform basic
daily activities — even something as simple as getting out of bed and walking
to another room
• Digestive problems, nausea, or indigestion resulting from poor blood
circulation to the stomach
• Mental difficulties, such as memory loss, confused thinking, or
disorientation
• A fast heart rate or feeling that the heart is racing.

Any chronic health condition that affects the organs of the
body also affects the cardiovascular system — coronary artery disease, a
complication of high levels of cholesterol in the blood, is a leading cause of
heart failure. In people with coronary artery disease, fatty plaques and
cholesterol build up and cause narrowing in the arteries that transport blood
to the heart (a condition known as atherosclerosis). When arteries are narrowed
by these plaque deposits, the heart doesn’t get enough blood. Over time, this
lack of blood flow to the heart can weaken the muscle to a point where it needs
to put out extra effort to keep the body functioning normally.

Hospitalization for treatment of heart failure is only one option.
For people diagnosed at an earlier stage of the disease, therapy with one or
more prescription medicines helps many people manage their condition
effectively. Commonly prescribed classes of medication include diuretics, which
are designed to reduce the amount of water and sodium in the body;
anticoagulants and antiplatelet agents, which help prevent life-threatening
blood clots from forming and causing a heart attack or stroke; and medications
such as statins and beta blockers, which are formulated to lower cholesterol
and blood pressure, respectively.

Because the development of any type of cardiovascular
disease happens slowly over many years, it’s important to know your personal
risk factors and to see your family physician for routine screening of your
blood pressure, total cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and other diseases.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with heart failure,
you may wish to check out these questions to ask your doctor from the American
Heart Association
and the American
Academy of Family Physicians
.

*Joshua Feinberg,
D.O., is a family medicine physician in practice at the Crozer Health Pavilion, 145 Brinton Lake Road, Suite 201, Glen Mills, PA 19342,
610-459-1619

About Crozer Keystone Staff

Crozer-Keystone Health System’s physicians, specialists and advanced practitioners are committed to improving the health of our community through patient-centered, quality care across a full continuum of health services. Crozer Brinton Lake is Crozer-Keystone’s comprehensive outpatient care facility in western Delaware County, offering primary care, specialty services, outpatient surgery and advanced cancer treatment. Contact us: 300 Evergreen Drive, Glen Mills, PA 19342 http://www.crozerkeystone.org/Brinton-Lake 1-855-254-7425

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