Heart Failure

I just want to talk today about Heart Failure. Over the last 15 years or so, I have become fairly well educated in the symptoms and treatment of CHF. I have come to understand that early detection and treatment are very important. Just like any condition, left untreated heart failure leads to death. No, it doesn’t typically happen overnight, but without treatment it is inevitable.

2013-illustration-heart-cross-section

There are 4 main types of Heart Failure

  • Left-Sided Heart Failure – Fluid may back up in your lungs, causing shortness of breath.
  • Right-Sided Heart Failure – Fluid may back up into your abdomen, legs and feet, causing swelling.
  • Systolic heart failure – The left ventricle can’t contract vigorously, indicating a pumping problem.
  • Diastolic heart failure – The left ventricle can’t relax or fill fully, indicating a filling problem.

All of these have the same outcome if left untreated. Den and I have been very vigilant about his treatment plans. We have gone through a lot of treatments and plans over the last 15 years. Each has had it’s own set of “speed bumps” for us.

The signs/symptons of heart failure are:

  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) when you exert yourself or when you lie down
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Swelling (edema) in your legs, ankles and feet
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged phlegm
  • Increased need to urinate at night
  • Swelling of your abdomen (ascites)
  • Very rapid weight gain from fluid retention
  • Lack of appetite and nausea
  • Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness
  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus
  • Chest pain if your heart failure is caused by a heart attack

 

When Den was diagnosed in 2002, his big warning sign was not being able to take a deep breath. He had been experiencing breathing problems for a few days. He literally could not breath when he would lay down at night. This basically lead to not sleeping or having to sleep sitting up in a chair. I finally convinced him to go to the ER, where they started not one but 2 IV’s with lasix to get the excess fluid off his lungs and heart. He spent a week in the hospital. They ran a litany of tests and he when he finally emerged, he had a fistful of medications and lots of follow up appointments.

Don’t wait for a sudden problem to make you go to the ER. If you have any of the follow, please seek medical attention:

  • Chest pain
  • Fainting or severe weakness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat associated with shortness of breath, chest pain or fainting
  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus

Now, remember, I am only talking about Heart Failure today! Some of these symptoms can be caused by other problems, but all are warning signs of impending problems.

There are lots of conditions/behaviors that can lead to heart failure. Here is list of some of them.

  • Coronary artery disease and heart attack
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Faulty heart valves
  • Damage to the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Myocarditis
  • Heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects)
  • Abnormal heart rhythms (heart arrhythmias)
  • Other Chronic Diseases (ie….diabetes)

 

Many conditions and behaviors cause risk factors to developing heart failure. While it is not possible to prevent all of the risk factors listed, it is a good idea to know where you stand in the scheme of things. As always, control what you can and talk to your doctor about what you cannot.

  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • Diabetes
  • Some diabetes medications
  • Certain medications
  • Sleep apnea
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Valvular heart disease
  • Viruses
  • Alcohol use
  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity
  • Irregular heartbeats

 

Lastly, there are some complications associated with heart failure. These can get really scary if left unchecked.

  • Kidney damage or failure
  • Heart valve problems
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Liver damage

My best advice is to become educated on any medical conditions you have and make sure you have an open line of communication to your healthcare providers. The best way to ensure a good outcome with any treatment is to be involved in your care.

With early detection and treatment, longevity can be achieved. Our last stop on the heart failure path is Den’s LVAD. He is not a candidate for transplant. He is considered “destination therapy” with his LVAD. We have made peace with this and treat every day as a gift.

 

For more information on any of these areas, consult your doctor. If you just want to educate yourself, there is tons of information on the web. My favorite sites are:

Mayo Clinic – https://www.mayoclinic.org/

Medicine Net – https://www.medicinenet.com

Healthline – https://www.healthline.com

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