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Heart failure

The heart is a pump that works together with the lungs. It pumps blood in 2 ways.

  • It pumps blood from the heart to the lungs to pick up oxygen. The oxygenated blood returns to the heart.
  • It then pumps blood out into the circulatory system of blood vessels that carry blood through the body.

Heart failure sounds frightening because it sounds like the heart just stops working. Do not be discouraged by the term heart failure—the heart has not stopped beating or pumping. Heart failure means the tissues of the body are temporarily not receiving enough blood and oxygen. With advancements in diagnosis and therapy for heart failure, patients are feeling better and living longer.

Heart failure is an illness in which the pumping action of the heart becomes less and less powerful. That is, the heart does not pump blood as well as it should. When this happens, blood does not move efficiently through the circulatory system and starts to back up, increasing the pressure in the blood vessels and forcing fluid from the blood vessels into body tissues.

If you have any of these symptoms, call your health care provider for an appointment.

  • You have Shortness of breath that seems to be getting worse or causes difficulty sleeping.
  • You fall asleep in bed but wake up at night with Shortness of breath.
  • You sleep better in a semi-upright position in a chair or recliner than flat in bed.
  • Your Shortness of breath develops with mild exertion and is worse than usual.
  • You have unusual fatigue that is not relieved with rest.
  • You have a dry cough that will not go away or seems otherwise unusual.
  • You have swelling in your ankles, feet, or legs that does not go away.

Other, more subtle symptoms of heart failure warrant a visit to your health care provider, especially if linked to any of the symptoms already listed.

  • Abdominal bloating or discomfort
  • Persistently pale skin
  • Poor appetite

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Self-Care at Home

Congestive heart failure is a serious medical condition that requires professional medical help.

  • Once diagnosed and under the care of a qualified medical professional, you can and should do several things at home to increase your comfort and reduce the chance of your condition getting worse.
  • In fact, the more active role you take in managing your heart failure, the more likely you are to do well.
  • Making the lifestyle changes described here will make a real difference. Not only will you feel better, but you will be increasing your chances of a longer, healthier life.

Treat swelling with the following measures:

  • Elevate the feet and legs if they are swollen.
  • Eat a reduced-salt diet.
  • Weigh in every morning before breakfast and record it in a diary that can be shown to a health care provider.

Avoid the following:

  • Not taking prescribed medications
  • Smoking (in all forms)
  • Alcohol (up to 1 drink per day is usually fine, unless prone to excessive intake/alcoholism)
  • Keep walking or join a cardiac rehabilitation program (this program can monitor increasing or decreasing exercise capacity)
  • Excessive emotional stress and/or depression (Moderate-to-severe mental depression has been shown to double mortality risk.)
  • High altitude (Breathing is more difficult because of the lower level of oxygen in the atmosphere; pressurized cabin air travel is usually fine.)
  • Herbal or other complementary medicine without first consulting a doctor to see if they are safe

Know the following:

  • People with diabetes  must control their blood sugar level every day. Know the HbA1C level. It should be less than 7.0, preferably less than 6.5.
  • People with blood pressure should measure it regularly, and make sure they know the value, (systolic pressure should be below 140 mm Hg in everyone and even below 130 if the person has diabetes).
  • People with elevated lipid levels (cholesterol and triglycerides) can take medications to get the bad cholesterol, or LDL, below 100, and the triglycerides below 150.

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