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Dr. Blois: 'Tired, Breathless? Heart Failure Could be the Culprit'

  • Category: General, Cardiology
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  • Written By: Boulder Community Health
Dr. Blois: 'Tired, Breathless? Heart Failure Could be the Culprit'
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 diagnosis, if not put on appropriate therapies.

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


VIDEO: Watch Dr. Blois' lecture on Recognizing and Treating Heart Failure

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 that includes an 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
  • 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.

Treatment Options
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 modification can help slow the disease’s progression, improve symptoms and decrease the risk of serious complications. These include:

  • managing blood pressure
  • limiting fluid intake (limit to 6 to 8 glasses of total fluid per day)
  • limiting salt intake (limit to 1800 mg per day of sodium)
  • engaging in moderate exercise (3 to 4 times per week for 30 minutes each session has survival benefit in heart failure)
  • adhering to your medication regimen
  • avoiding regular use of NSAIDs
  • cutting back on heavy alcohol use and smoking
  • immunizing for the yearly flu and pneumonia

"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 at 303-442-2395.

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

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