Living With Heart Failure
Mar 30, 2020 Rosanna Turner
More than 6 million people in the U.S. are living with heart failure.
But the term "heart failure" can be misleading, says Dr. Michele Hamilton, director of the Advanced Heart Failure Program at Cedars-Sinai.
"Most patients with heart failure can live a very active lifestyle and not require the more advanced interventions."
"Heart failure sounds like the heart is giving out, that it will get worse and worse with a bad outcome," Dr. Hamilton says.
"However, heart failure patients can often have a good outcome and excellent quality of life, if they receive the right medical treatment and make the necessary lifestyle changes."
Diagnosing heart failure
According to the American Heart Association, the most common causes of heart failure are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and previous heart attack.
Signs of heart failure most often include shortness of breath, persistent coughing or wheezing, unexplained fatigue and swelling of the legs or abdomen.
There are two different types of heart failure. In heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF), the heart is weak and can't pump enough blood into circulation. In heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), the left ventricle can't relax normally because the heart muscle has become "stiff."
Dr. Hamilton says that while we often think of heart disease as "a disease of men," congestive heart failure occurs just as often in women.
"Women are more likely to have heart failure in older age, and more likely to develop it from a stiff heart caused by high blood pressure or a heart valve problem than a heart weakened by heart attacks," Dr. Hamilton says.
Treating heart failure
After someone is diagnosed with heart failure, one of the main hurdles is accepting that treating a heart condition is not "a one-time problem with a one-time fix," Dr. Hamilton says.
"For heart failure patients, it takes a while working with your doctors and healthcare team to gradually get up to the best doses of the specific medicines that are best for you," Dr. Hamilton says. "It requires patience."
Along with medications, treating or managing heart failure can involve making significant diet and lifestyle changes. For patients who still have symptoms despite these efforts, there are cases where mechanical assist devices for the heart or a heart transplant can be lifesaving.
Even if you do get diagnosed with heart failure, there are still reasons to be hopeful.
"Most patients with heart failure can live a very active lifestyle and not require the more advanced interventions," Dr. Hamilton says.
Preventing heart disease to reduce your risk of heart failure
Advancements in managing and treating heart failure have resulted in improved quality of life for many patients and an increase in survival rates.
"The care of heart failure has changed dramatically over the past 10 years," Dr. Hamilton says.
"We have new medications that have been shown to substantially increase a patient's survival, as well as reduce their chance of being in the hospital. In addition, the treatment outcomes with heart transplants and mechanical assist devices have been improving rapidly."
While there has been much progress made in treating patients with heart failure, Dr. Hamilton says that prevention is still the top priority.
Some of the most important ways you can reduce your risk of most types of heart disease include quitting smoking, eating a healthy, Mediterranean-style diet, doing a regular aerobic exercise program and working closely with your doctor to make sure your blood pressure and cholesterol are well-controlled.
Talk to your doctor about your risk for cardiovascular disease and steps you can take today to improve your heart health.