Heart failure is a frighteningly common but sometimes overlooked life-threatening condition that occurs when your heart becomes too weak to pump blood to the rest of your body.

"Heart failure tends to make you feel tired all the time and short of breath, so many people dismiss these symptoms, thinking they are signs of 'just getting old.' Other times it is wrongly attributed to asthma, pneumonia or upper respiratory infection,” BCH heart failure specialist Scott Blois, MD, said during a free health lecture held on Sept. 27 in Boulder, Colo.

"Although the symptoms of heart failure can be very subtle, it's dangerous to ignore them," he said.

Heart failure can lead to serious complications, including kidney damage, heart valve problems, abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia) and liver damage. About half of those who develop heart failure die within five years of diagnosis, if not put on appropriate therapies.

“Early diagnosis offers the best response to treatment and a better prognosis,” Dr. Blois explained.

FACES of Heart Failure
To help quickly spot symptoms of heart failure, Dr. Blois shared a handy tool that goes by the acronym FACES.
F = Fatigue
A = Activities limited
C = Chest congestion
E = Edema or ankle swelling
S = Shortness of breath

Any one sign may not be cause for alarm. But if you have more than one of these symptoms, report them to a health care professional and ask for a heart evaluation that includes an echocardiogram and B-type natiuretic peptide (BNP) level blood test.

Causes and Risk Factors
Dr. Blois said that currently an estimated 1 in 5 people will develop heart failure in their lifetime. It's caused by current and past medical conditions that either damage or weaken the heart:

· high blood pressure (hypertension)
· past heart attack
· coronary artery disease
· heart valve disease
· diabetes
· alcohol dependence

One of these risk factors can be enough to cause heart failure, but a combination of factors greatly increases your risk. Talk to your health care provider about your risk for heart failure.

Latest Treatment Options
According to Dr. Blois, the increase in heart failure patients has inspired researchers to look for new ways to treat it.

“Many new medications, pacemakers, defibrillators and surgical procedures have been developed that can strengthen the heart muscle and make heart failure a chronic, yet tolerable disease,” Dr. Blois said. “Also, following recommendations for lifestyle changes — including limiting water and salt intake, engaging in moderate exercise, cutting back on heavy alcohol use and smoking — can help slow the disease’s progression and improve symptoms.”

As he wrapped up his lecture, Dr. Blois made a critical point about where to go for care.

“If you have heart failure, it’s important to go to a specialized heart failure clinic, like the Heart Failure Clinic we have at Boulder Heart,” he said. “We can offer the latest treatment options for managing the condition and the best chance of maintaining a good quality of life.”

Dr. Scott Blois created and now leads the first and only heart failure clinic in Boulder County. Appointments are available by calling Boulder Heart at 303-442-2395.

Click here to view PowerPoint slides from Dr. Blois’s lecture on “Recognizing and Treating Heart Failure.”

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