Nationally, one of every four heart failure patients is readmitted within 30 days of discharge and as many as 40 percent return to the hospital within six months. However, studies have shown that with proper management, heart failure patients can be kept out of the hospital in at least 40 percent of cases.
It was once felt that heart transplants and other state-of-the-art technologies were the best way to help these patients. However today, the thinking tends to start with the basics by educating and teaching patients to make lifestyle changes. This includes teaching the importance of healthy eating, exercising properly, and taking their medication which are all preventative measures that help heart failure patients stay happy, healthy and away from more drastic procedures.
Coronary artery disease (or CAD), a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart, is the most common cause of heart failure. Diseases like emphysema and severe anemia can also contribute to heart failure.
Heart failure (congestive heart failure), is when the heart can no longer pump enough blood to the rest of the body. With this often chronic condition, blood may back up in other areas of the body causing fluid buildup in the lungs, liver, GI tract, arms and legs. This causes a lack of oxygen and nutrition to the organs and extremities, damaging and reducing their ability to work properly.
Symptoms often begin slowly, and may only be apparent when one is active. This can include shortness of breath, coughing, swelling of the feet and ankles, weight gain, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite and fatigue.
Doctors closely manage the medications that most heart failure patients take. This can include ACE inhibitors to open blood vessels and decrease the workload of the heart, diuretics that help the body eliminate fluid and salt, digitalis glycosides to help the heart muscle contract properly and treat heart rhythm disturbances, angiotensin receptor blockers to eliminate the side effects brought on by the ACE inhibitors, and beta blockers that can improve the heart’s pumping ability.
A preventive program often includes diet, exercise and other healthy lifestyle changes. Recommended diets include foods low in sodium and salt – which can mean avoiding such staples as cured meats, bacon, sausages, ham, cheese, bottled dressings – and the use of such spices as pepper, garlic and lemon instead of salt. Patients are urged to lose weight and, for those who smoke, to quit. A healthy lifestyle is possible for patients struggling with heart failure and can be invaluable in future preventative care.