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Living Well With Heart Failure

by Joy Pape, RN, BSN, CDE, WOCN, CFCN

  • Anemia. When your red blood cell count is lower than normal, your heart tries to compensate by increasing your heart rate, and it can become overworked.
  • Coronary artery disease. When cholesterol and fatty deposits build up in your arteries, less blood reaches your heart. This damages your heart muscle, and the remaining healthy parts of your heart have to work harder.
  • Diabetes. People with diabetes have a high incidence of high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, both of which are linked to heart failure.
  • Excessive sodium intake. A high sodium intake can cause fluid retention and raise blood pressure in some people.
  • Heart attack(s). A heart attack occurs when the arteries that supply blood to your heart get blocked, and oxygen-rich blood doesn’t get to all parts of your heart. The part of your heart that doesn’t receive oxygen gets damaged, or “dies,” causing the remaining healthy parts of your heart to work harder.
  • Heart defects present at birth. If your heart is not formed correctly, the normal parts of your heart have to work harder.
  • Heart muscle diseases. Any damage to your heart for any reason increases your risk for heart failure.
  • High blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure greatly increases your risk for heart failure. When the pressure in your blood vessels is too high, your heart has to pump harder to keep your blood circulating. In time, this causes your heart to get larger and weaker.
  • Lack of physical activity. Any muscle that isn’t exercised gets weaker, and your heart is no exception.
  • Lung disease. When your lungs don’t work properly, your heart has to work harder to get oxygen to the rest of your body.
  • Overweight. Being overweight makes your heart work harder.
  • Sleep apnea. With sleep apnea, there are times your heart doesn’t get the oxygen it needs because your breathing temporarily stops. This cycle of stopping and abruptly starting to breathe many times per night causes your heart to work harder.
  • Thyroid problems. If your thyroid is overactive, your metabolism speeds up, and your heart can get overworked trying to keep up.
  • Smoking. Smoking can damage your circulatory system and your lungs and make your heart work harder.
  • Symptoms
    The following symptoms commonly occur with heart failure. A person with heart failure may experience all of them, some of them, or none of them, at least early on.

    Shortness of breath. When your blood “backs up,” fluid can leak into your lungs, which causes you to be short of breath. You can also experience shortness of breath if you retain fluid in other parts of your body that press against your lungs. Shortness of breath can occur during activity, at rest, or when sleeping. You may wake up suddenly feeling as if you are suffocating, or just wake up feeling tired, anxious, and restless.

    Cough or wheeze. This occurs because of the fluid in your lungs. You may have a dry, hacking cough, or you may cough up white or pink, blood-tinged mucus.

    Swelling. Fluid retention, called edema, can occur as blood flow slows down. When this happens, your kidneys become less able to get rid of sodium and water, which causes you to retain yet more fluid. You may experience swelling of your feet, ankles, legs, abdomen, or face, possibly causing shoes or rings to feel tight. You may also experience weight gain because of fluid retention.

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    The Heart



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    Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.



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