Heart Failure (cont.)

Quick Quiz

  1. The most common symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, feeling tired, and swelling.

TRUE is the correct answer. The most common symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, feeling tired, and swelling. Swelling usually occurs in the ankles, feet, legs, and sometimes in the abdomen.

  1. Heart failure causes people to feel tired only after strenuous activities.

FALSE is the correct answer. As heart failure progresses, the symptoms get worse. You may feel tired or short of breath after performing simple activities, like getting dressed.

  1. There is one specific test to diagnose heart failure.

FALSE is the correct answer. Because the symptoms of heart failure are common for other conditions, your doctor will need to rule out any other causes by doing a number of things including a medical history, an examination, and several tests. These tests will also determine the amount of damage to your heart.

  1. One of the most common tests given to determine heart failure is an EKG or ECG -- electrocardiogram.

TRUE is the correct answer. An EKG or ECG is used to measure the rate and regularity of your heartbeat. The test can show if you have had a heart attack and whether the walls of your heart have thickened.

Treatment and Research

There is no cure for heart failure, but it can be controlled by treating the underlying conditions that cause it. The goals for treatment are to improve symptoms, stop it from getting worse, and prolong life span.

Treatment includes lifestyle changes, medications, and specialized care for those who are in the advanced stages.

Treatment for heart failure will reduce the chances that you will have to go to the hospital and make it easier for you to do the things you like to do. It is very important that you follow your treatment plan by keeping doctors appointments, taking medications, and making lifestyle changes.

Your doctor will probably recommend that you follow a diet low in salt because salt can cause extra fluid to build up in your body, making heart failure worse. You should limit the fluids you drink and weigh yourself every day. Let your doctor know right away if you have sudden weight gain. This could mean extra fluid is building up.

Your doctor may also tell you to lose weight, quit smoking, and limit the amount of alcohol you drink.

Your doctor will prescribe medications to improve your heart function and symptoms. These may include:

  • Diuretics, which are water or fluid pills. These reduce fluid in your lungs and swelling in your feet and ankles.
  • ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure and reduce strain on your heart.

Medications your doctor may prescribe include:

  • Beta blockers to slow your heart rate. They will also lower blood pressure to relieve some of the workload on your heart.
  • Digoxin will help the heart beat stronger and pump more blood.

Those with heart failure should try to avoid respiratory infections like pneumonia and the flu. Ask your doctor about getting an annual flu shot. Your doctor may also order extra oxygen if you have trouble breathing. The oxygen can be used in your home or in the hospital.

People with severe heart failure may also receive a mechanical heart pump that is placed inside the body to help pump blood. Some heart pumps can stay in your body for a long time, while others are temporary.

You may also be considered for a heart transplant. During transplantation, a healthy heart from someone who has recently died is put in to replace yours. A transplant is an option when all other treatments fail to control symptoms.

Many advances in treatment for heart failure have been made over the past few decades, but heart failure is still very common. Scientists are trying to determine the best ways to prevent and treat heart failure.

For example, a recent study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of implantable defibrillators -- ICDs -- revealed that the device can prolong the lives of some heart failure patients.

Researchers are also looking at genetics in relation to heart failure treatments. One study is investigating whether patients who have certain genetic markers may respond better to beta blockers than those who do not.

A study supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has shown that drugs called statins, which can reduce cholesterol levels, also improve survival in heart failure patients. Many other new treatments for heart failure are currently being tested.

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