What Do I Do About Heart Failure?

Dr. Larry Weinrauch Health Pro
  • Heart failure is usually a chronic disease. That means it's a long-term condition that tends to gradually become worse. By the time someone is diagnosed, chances are that the heart has been losing pumping capacity little by little for quite a while. At first, the heart tries to make up for this by:


            Enlarging. When the heart chamber enlarges, it stretches more and can contract more strongly, so it pumps more blood.

            Developing moremuscle mass. The increase in muscle mass occurs because the contracting cells of the heart get bigger. This lets the heart pump more strongly, at least initially.

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            Pumping faster. This helps to increase the heart's output.


    The body also tries to compensate in other ways. The blood vessels narrow to keep blood pressure up. The body diverts blood away from less important tissues and organs to maintain flow to the most vital organs, the heart and brain. These temporary measures mask but don’t solve the problem of heart failure and people may not become aware of their condition until years after their heart begins its decline. Eventually the heart and body just can't keep up, water handling compensation mechanisms become more marked and the person experiences the fatigue, breathing problems and shortness of breath that prompt a trip to the doctor.


    In heart failure, the heart isn’t working properly, so many people think that exercise will hurt them. Actually, moderate physical activity can help the heart get stronger. With daily exercise, most people will find that they don’t feel as tired, have less stressand energy level increases. Weight control or weight loss, better circulation,and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels are additional benefits for a little physical effort.


    It’s important to plan your physical activity with your healthcare professionals. How much exercise you can do will depend on your specific condition. But even a small amount can improve the way you feel and help you have a more positive attitude. If you can enjoy some recreation, family outings or other leisure activities, you’ll get more pleasure out of life.


    Heart failure requires you and your caregivers to pay close attention to any changes in symptoms. If you notice something new, or a sudden worsening of a current symptom, notify the doctor immediately. Here's what to watch for:


            Sudden weight gain - three or more pounds in one day, five or more pounds in one week, or whatever amount you were told to report.That's why it's so important for people with heart failure to weigh themselves every day - preferably every morning, before breakfast and after urinating, with the same type of clothes on, without shoes, on the same scale and in the same spot

            Shortness of breath while at rest, not related to exercise or exertion

            Increased swelling of the lower limbs (legs or ankles)

            Swelling or pain in the abdomen

            Trouble sleeping (awakening short of breath, using more pillows)

  •         Frequent dry, hacking cough

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            Loss of appetite

            Increased fatigue or feeling tired all the time

Published On: May 21, 2007