Heart failure is a term often misunderstood. Many people think heart failure means the heart is no longer working and there is nothing that can be done to help a person with heart failure. In fact, heart failure means the heart is weak and not pumping as well as it should be. Heart failure is a serious condition but not necessarily a fatal one. In fact, many people with heart failure lead a full, enjoyable life when the condition is managed with medications and healthy lifestyle changes.
What is heart failure
Your heart's job is to pump blood filled with oxygen and nutrients to all of your body's cells. The blood nourishes your body and helps it function. When you have heart failure, the heart is too weak to supply all the blood that your body needs. This results in fatigue, shortness of breath, and difficulty doing everyday tasks such as walking to your car, climbing stairs, or carrying groceries.
Signs of heart failure
Heart failure is a progressive condition, and symptoms may not appear for some time. At first, the body and heart are able to make up for decreased heart functions and there may not be any symptoms. Over time, the heart failure worsens. The decreasing heart function can make it difficult to move fluid and oxygen throughout the body, which can cause:
- Shortness of breath, especially with activity or when lying down
- Swelling (edema) in the legs, ankles, and feet
- Fatigue and weakness
- Persistent cough or a wheezing cough that may be accompanied by white or blood-tinged phlegm
- Rapid weight gain as a result of fluid accumulation
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Change in urine production, which may include an increase, decrease, or need to urinate at night
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased alertness
If you are experiencing the above symptoms, make an appointment with your primary care physician or cardiologist. While these issues may seem to be mild annoyances at first, untreated heart failure will continue to weaken your heart and can lead to other complications such as cardiomyopathy, heart arrhythmia, liver and kidney failure, or even a stroke.
What to ask your doctor
At your annual check-up, talk to your doctor about your risks for developing heart failure. Make sure your doctor has a complete family history to best assess those risks. And ask if there are lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent or reduce your risk of developing heart failure.
If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, the American Heart Association suggests the following questions to help you learn the most about your diagnosis. If possible, bring a friend or family member to your appointment to take notes and ask additional questions.
- Is the heart failure mild, moderate, or severe?
- What are the treatment options for my condition?
- What side effects are caused by this treatment?
- What is likely to happen without treatment?
- Are there any alternative or complementary therapies that will help me?
- What medications are available to me?
- Are there any medications, in particular, that would be of benefit to me?
- What are the side effects of these medications?
- What should be done is these side effects occur?
- Will these medications interact with other medications, over-the-counter products, or dietary or herbal supplements that I am already taking?
- What is the name of the medication? Is this the brand or generic name? Does it matter which one is used?
- What is the medication supposed to do?
- How and when should it be taken - and for how long?
- What foods, drinks, and other medication should be avoided while taking this medication?
- Is any written information available about the medication?
- If a certain medication is causing side effects that are difficult to deal with, is there some way to minimize those side effects? Is there another equally good medication available?
About lifestyle changes
- What are some specific ways that daily life will change?
- Can I still work, play golf, have sex, do the laundry? Be sure to ask about any specific activity that you have in mind.
- What strategies have other people found useful for motivating themselves to:
- Eat better?
- Stop smoking?
- If I make these changes, how will they benefit me?
- Will these changes cure my heart failure?
- Should I see a specialist?
- What should we expect within the next few weeks, months, and years?
- Will I benefit from a support group? If so, can you recommend one?
- Will I need a cardiac rehabilitation program?
- What is the likely progression of this condition?
- What are the most important things we can do to manage this condition?
Care coordination services at Logansport Memorial
You and your primary care physician are part of a team at LMH. If you are diagnosed with heart failure, you will most likely also need to begin seeing a cardiologist. Care coordination services can help make sure all of your questions are answered from each doctor that you see, both old and new. Call to talk with one of our care coordinators if you need help navigating your health care: 574.753.1317.