Heart failure is chronic, can often be prevented

heart failure graphic

Heart failure is a term used to describe a serious condition in which your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. It doesn’t mean that your heart has or is about to stop working. In some instances, it means your heart doesn’t fill with enough blood, while in other instances it can’t pump the blood forcefully enough to the rest of your body. Some people are affected by both complaints.

While your heart’s pumping action becomes weaker, heart failure develops. It can affect either the right side of the heart or both sides; most people are afflicted by both sides.

The causes of heart failure are mainly conditions that damage or overwork the heart muscle. As the heart weakens over time, certain toxic proteins and substances may be released into the blood, worsening the situation.

Causes of heart failure include:

  • Coronary heart disease;
  • Diabetes;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Other heart conditions or diseases (i.e. arrhythmia, congenital heart defects, etc.); and
  • Other factors (i.e. alcohol abuse or illegal drug use, HIV/AIDS, etc.).

Symptoms of heart failure

Heart failure is a chronic disease, but you can also experience sudden (or acute) symptoms. Some common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath upon exertion or lying down;
  • Fatigue and weakness;
  • Swelling (or edema) in your feet, ankles, and legs;
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat;
  • Decreased ability to exercise;
  • Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink, blood-tinged phlegm;
  • Increased need to urinate at night;
  • Swollen abdomen;
  • Sudden weight gain from fluid retention;
  • Lack of appetite and nausea;
  • Decreased alertness or difficulty concentrating;
  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus; and
  • Chest pain (if your heart failure is due to a heart attack).

Fortunately, heart failure is preventable and the quicker you take steps, the better off you’ll be.

If you have a healthy heart, you should follow the below recommended steps:

For those at a high risk for developing heart failure (i.e. people with coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.), adopt the above steps, as well as the below ones:

  • Work with your healthcare provider to manage any conditions that may cause heart failure;
  • Avoid drinking alcohol; and
  • Continue seeing your healthcare provider for ongoing care.

For people who already have heart damage without signs of heart failure, take the above steps, as well as any prescribed medications to decrease your heart’s workload.

Treating heart failure

When it comes to treating your heart failure, your treatment plan may include a variety of options ranging from lifestyle changes to medications to surgery.

If you are prescribed medications, it is important to take them exactly as directed to improve the benefits you may receive. Some of the classes of drugs you may be prescribed are listed below:

About the Author

Julie Kaplan, Pharm. D.
Julie Kaplan is a licensed pharmacist in Virginia and the District of Columbia. She received a Bachelor’s of Arts in English from The College of William and Mary and a Doctor of Pharmacy from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has experience in patient communication from working as a retail pharmacist.