A woman experiencing some symptoms of heart failure.
Heart and Vascular

What You Should Know About Heart Failure

Aug 19 2020

Do you often have shortness of breath, especially when you go to bed at night? Are your ankles, feet and legs swollen? Or, have you noticed that you have begun to cough or wheeze when you exercise? These are all commons symptoms of heart failure.

Heart failure can be a misleading term. It is not when the heart stops, but when the heart’s muscles weaken and cannot pump a sufficient amount of blood throughout your body. Learn more about this condition that impacts nearly 6.5 million Americans.

Causes of heart failure

One of the main causes of heart failure is coronary artery disease, also known as CAD. CAD is a condition where the arteries become clogged with plaque. This reduces the heart’s ability to pump enough blood.

Additional causes for heart failure include having previously had a heart attack or any heart defects. Conditions such as persistent high blood pressure, heart valve disease, an infection that diminished the heart’s function, arrhythmias, obesity, diabetes, HIV, hypothyroidism, alcoholism or drug dependency, along with certain chemotherapy treatments can also be causes.

Lifestyle changes to help with heart failure

If you are diagnosed with heart failure, it is important to adopt a healthier lifestyle. This includes eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising, losing weight and stopping smoking. Additionally, medication can help make you more comfortable and slow the progression of the condition.

Medications include those that control blood pressure, diuretics to help flush excess fluid from the body, as well as medications that help strengthen the heart muscle and maintain even heart rhythms. You can also implant a defibrillator to jump-start the heart or implant a device to help with blood flow.

Common signs of heart failure

So, how do you know if you have heart failure? Often, the first sign is if your ankles and feet have begun to swell. Frequently, patients will ignore this symptom, thinking that they have been on their feet too much or it’s due to weight gain.

You may also have heart failure if you experience shortness of breath, especially when resting or lying down at night. Experiencing a persistent, tired, run-down feeling when you really haven’t been that active is another common sign. Coughing or wheezing during exercise or when lying down, moderate weight gain from fluid retention, fast or irregular heartbeat, having to get up during the night to urinate, and feeling general confusion are additional symptoms.

If you are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms of heart failure, the first step is to talk to your primary care provider. They will conduct a thorough exam, discuss your medical history and run blood tests to identify potential problems.

Additionally, patients may have an EKG that shows the electrical activity within the heart, a chest X-ray to see if the heart is enlarged or has other visible abnormalities, an echocardiogram to show the heart’s movement or a stress test that records how the heart responds to exercise. There are also more invasive tests to check for actual blockages in the arteries or give more details of the heart’s activity.

Please note, if you are unsure you have heart failure but are experiencing serious health symptoms, go to the nearest emergency room to receive care.

Learn more about heart failure or find a provider near you at Mercy Health. 

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