Heart failure is a serious chronic illness that can be managed

Special to the Herald-LeaderNovember 26, 2012 

Tracy Hollan, Central Baptist Health Care

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Heart failure currently affects 5.7 million Americans and causes 55,000 deaths each year in the United States. Heart failure is a serious chronic illness where the heart does not pump the blood as efficiently as it should. The heart continues to beat but pumps less nutrient and oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. As a result, fluid builds up in the body tissues and the lungs.

A common symptom of heart failure is feeling tired or weak. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, swelling in the feet or ankles, dizziness or fainting, chest pain, abdominal pain or a dry, hacking cough. Sometimes a person may have difficulty lying flat, or they will wake up at night unable to catch their breath.

Heart failure usually occurs when another problem makes the heart weak or stiff.

Coronary artery disease is a common cause of this as well as a previous heart attack, high blood pressure, lung disease and problems with the valves in the heart.

If you are experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms, you should talk to your health care provider. Congestive heart failure will be diagnosed through an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart. If diagnosed with heart failure, there are some important points to remember:

■ Watch the salt intake. It is recommended to have less than 1500 mg of sodium a day, which is less than one teaspoon of salt. Don't add salt to your food. Get in the habit of reading labels because salt is hidden in many foods.

■ The American Heart Association recommends walking at least 30 minutes a day. Start out slowly by walking 5-10 minutes a day three times a week and work up to 30 minutes per day.

■ Always rest after periods of activity.

■ Take your medicines as prescribed by your health care provider. If you have questions about your medications, talk to your health care provider or pharmacist.

■ If you are diagnosed with heart failure, it is important to know the symptoms and to call your health care provider's office with worsening symptoms.

Heart failure is a serious illness but can be managed with medications and proper lifestyle changes. Early diagnosis and treatment can greatly improve a person's quality of life and life expectancy.

Tracy Hollan is the outpatient heart failure nurse practitioner at Central Baptist Hospital.

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