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The brightly colored candy hearts and the hearts on decorations and cards this month can serve an important purpose. Even though they in no way resemble our physical hearts, we can use them as a reminder to check in on our heart health. Statistics show that nearly 6 million Americans have heart failure, and over 870,000 people are diagnosed with heart failure every year, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalizations in people over the age of 65.
Heart failure is a condition when the heart is not pumping as strongly as it should be. As a result, that rest of the body is not getting enough blood and oxygen flow. When a doctor diagnoses a patient with heart failure, it can be in various stages ranging from “high risk of developing heart failure” to “advanced heart failure”. It’s important to ask your doctor what stage you are in and discuss what changes you can make to help improve the state of your heart or prevent further damage. Preventing and controlling health conditions that cause heart failure are necessary measures to prevent and slow down heart failure. Coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are all chronic conditions that cause heart failure. Not all of these conditions can be reversed, but identifying and treating these conditions can improve the symptoms of heart failure, and improve your quality of life.
Some of the first signs of heart failure are 1.) an enlarged heart: the heart is stretching itself in an attempt to pump more strongly; 2.) a heart that is pumping faster: an attempt to increase its output. The body will attempt to compensate for the decline of the heart’s capacity, but it will not be enough to solve the problem long term. Untreated heart failure can weaken and damage the heart. Over time, a person with heart failure will notice symptoms such as difficulty breathing and/or fatigue. This is generally the point when they may consider consulting a doctor, but it might not be soon enough. Because the body will initially attempt to “fix” heart failure, it can mask the symptoms long enough for a person to not recognize them until they are in a more advanced state of heart failure. This is just another reason why regular wellness check ups with your primary care provider are so important.
Heart failure is a long term, chronic illness that needs treatment and attention. When caught early enough, and with proper medical treatment and lifestyle changes, it is possible to manage heart failure and lead a full life.