Heart Failure Facts and Information
What is heart failure?
Heart failure is a progressive condition in which the heart’s muscle becomes weakened after it is injured from something like a heart attack or high blood pressure and gradually loses its ability to pump enough blood to supply the body’s needs. Many people don’t even know they have it because its symptoms are often mistaken for signs of getting older. Heart failure does not develop overnight – it’s a progressive disease that starts slowly and gets worse over time.
How common is heart failure?Heart failure is common, but unrecognized and often misdiagnosed. It affects nearly 6.5 million Americans. Heart failure is the only major cardiovascular disorder on the rise. An estimated 400,000 to 700,000 new cases of heart failure are diagnosed each year and the number of deaths in in the United States from this condition has more than doubled since 1979, averaging 250,000 annually.
What are the risk factors for heart failure?Although heart failure may strike at any age, it is more common in people over the age of 65, but can be found in patients of all ages.
Risk factors include:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Heart attack (myocardial infarction)
- Damage to the heart valves or history of a heart murmur
- Enlargement of the heart
- Family history of enlarged heart
What are the common symptoms of heart failureThe symptoms of heart failure may be subtle and are often mistaken for normal signs of aging. Common symptoms of heart failure are:
- General fatigue and weakness
- Shortness of breath from walking stairs or simple activities (dyspnea)
- Trouble breathing when resting or lying down
- Waking up breathless at night (paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea)
- Needing more than two pillows to sleep (orthopnea)
- Tiring Easily
- Swelling of feet, ankles or legs (edema)
- General feeling of fatigue
- Frequent coughing
- Coughing that produces a mucus or pink, blood-tinged sputum
- Dry, hacking cough when lying flat in bed
How is heart failure diagnosed?Doctors often order a number of tests when exploring a possible diagnosis of heart failure. The most important of these test is the echocardiogram, or “echo”, which tells a person what their ejection fraction (EF) is. The ejection fraction is a measurement of how well the heart is pumping. People with a healthy heart have an EF of about 60 percent, while people with heart failure have an EF of 40 percent or less.
With early diagnosis and newer treatments, people with heart failure are able to continue enjoying their everyday activities and have a more normal life expectancy. Experts now recommend a three to four drug combination to treat heart failure, which include digoxin to help the heart pump better and improve blood circulation and diuretics, sometimes called water pills, to help remove extra fluid in the body and reduce swelling in the legs and ankles. Two newer classes of medications, ACE inhibitors and beta blockers have been shown to slow disease progression and work by blocking certain stress hormones in the body that are believed to be responsible for the progression of heart failure.
What is the prognosis for a patient with heart failure?Less than 50 percent of patients are living five years after their initial diagnosis and less than 25 percent are alive at 10 years. Poor prognosis can be attributed to a limited understanding of how the heart weakens and insufficient private and government funding.
How is heart failure treated?Early diagnosis and treatment are very important, and recently there have been some major steps forward in treatment. Today, doctors can do more than ever, so many people with heart failure can live normal lives and be less at risk for being hospitalized. If you are diagnosed with heart failure, there are a number of medications that work together to improve your symptoms and help keep your heart failure from getting worse. Taking these medicines, in addition to eating right and getting regular exercise, will help improve your health.
How can I live with heart failure?If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, there are many things that you can do to help yourself.
These activities include:
- Limiting your intake of salt is very important and you should learn what prepared foods have large amounts of salt.
- It is important for you to weigh yourself each day and contact your healthcare provider if your weight changes significantly.
- Exercising at levels recommended by your physician is of great importance in keeping you fit and well.
- Taking your medications is also beneficial.
- It is important for you to maintain frequent visits to your physician and notify him or her if there are any changes in your symptoms.
- It is essential that both you and your family understand what heart failure is, what the symptoms are, what you should do if your symptoms change and how your doctor treats this disease. These questions can be answered by your doctor, health practitioners or nurses who work in your doctor’s office.
What are the stages of heart failure?
NYHA Classification – The Stages of Heart Failure
In order to determine the best course of of therapy, physicians often assess the stage of heart failure according to the New York Heart Association (NYHA) functional classification system. This system relates symptoms to everyday activities and the patient’s quality of life.
Class I (Mild)No limitation of physical activity. Ordinary physical activity does not cause undue fatigue, palpitation, or dyspnea (shortness of breath).
Class II (Mild)Slight limitation of physical activity. Comfortable at rest, but ordinary physical activity results in fatigue, palpitation, or dyspnea.
Class III (Moderate)Marked limitation of physical activity. Comfortable at rest, but less than ordinary activity causes fatigue, palpitation, or dyspnea.
Class IV (Severe)Unable to carry out any physical activity without discomfort. Symptoms of cardiac insufficiency at rest. If any physical activity is undertaken, discomfort is increased.
What is the future for heart failure?
As more people survive heart attacks but are left with weakened hearts, the United States faces a new and often misunderstood epidemic. The good news is that we now know a great deal more about heart failure and the importance of early diagnosis and treatment. In the past, heart failure tratment was limited to only alleviating symptoms, a strategy with limited effectiveness over the long-term. Now, as more and more people become aware of heart failure and are better able to recognize its symptoms, they will hopefully go see their physicians who can prescribe medications that not only help them feel better, but also significantly slow the progression of the disease. Ultimately, this is good news for patients who, with proper treatment, can lead a more normal and fulfilling life.
Fast Fact: The 5.7 million Americans suffering from heart failure received $28.7 million in research dollars. In comparison, lung cancer research, which affects 390,000 Americans, received $132 million.