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, upper respiratory infection or depression,” BCH
heart failure specialist
Scott Blois, MD, said during a free health lecture.
"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.
Up to half of those who develop heart failure die within five years of
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 any of these
symptoms and they persist despite initial treatment, Dr. Blois said to
report them to a health care professional and ask for a heart evaluation
echocardiogram — the most important test to evaluate and confirm heart failure
— and the B-type natiuretic peptide (BNP) level blood test. Results
of these tests can help your doctor determine the cause of your signs
and symptoms and the most appropriate treatment.
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:
- uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension)
- past heart attack
- coronary artery disease
- heart valve disease
- 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.
Doctors usually treat heart failure with a combination of medications.
You may also need to take other heart medications as well — such
as diuretics for shortness of breath or leg swelling — along with
heart failure medications.
According to Dr. Blois, following recommendations for lifestyle changes
can help slow the disease’s progression and improve symptoms. These include:
- limiting water and salt intake
- engaging in moderate exercise
- adhering to your medication regimen
- cutting back on heavy alcohol use and smoking
"Fortunately, the increase in heart failure patients has inspired
researchers to look for new ways to treat it and delay its progression.
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 added.
He stated that even more advancements are underway and will become available
in the not-to-distant future, including:
- genomic testing to determine which medications may work best for you
- stem cell replacement in the heart via surgical injection
- gene replacement to grow new muscle cells in the heart
- surgical mechanical heart pumps (VADs) with superior materials
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 established the first
heart failure clinic in Boulder County. Appointments are available by calling Boulder Heart
Click here to view PowerPoint slides from Dr. Blois’ lecture on “Recognizing
and Treating Heart Failure.”
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