Understanding the Symptoms and Risk Factors of Heart Failure
Although heart failure is a significant health challenge, it doesn’t mean the heart has stopped working or is about to stop working. It does, however, require medical intervention to manage. Although there’s no cure for heart failure, the UPMC Western Maryland cardiology team can help you improve your quality of life through diet changes, exercise, medication, and several other protocols.
Heart failure can be either chronic, experiences over months or years, or acute which means that it comes on suddenly. Some of the most common symptoms associated with heart failure include:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Shortness of breath upon exertion or immediately after lying down
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Edema (swelling) in your ankles, feet, and legs
- Chronic wheezing or a cough accompanied by pink or white phlegm tinged with blood
- Abdominal swelling
- Increased need to urinate, especially at night
- Rapid weight gain from retention of fluids
- Decreased alertness or difficulty concentrating
- Nausea or lack of appetite
- Severe or sudden shortness of breath accompanied by foamy, pink mucus
- Crushing chest pain if you’re having a heart attack
Call 9-1-1 immediately if you or someone you know is experiencing the last two symptoms, as well as severe weakness or fainting.
While some people have problems with heart failure from birth, others develop it due to having several risk factors. The most common risk factors associated with heart failure include the following:
- Coronary artery disease
- High blood pressure
- Previous heart attack
- Diabetes and certain medications used to treat it, including Actos and Avandia
- Certain medications, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), certain types of anesthesia, and medications to treat high blood pressure, cancer, lung conditions, psychiatric conditions, neurological conditions, inflammatory infections and conditions, and urological conditions
- Congenital heart defects
- Sleep apnea
- Valvular heart disease
- Tobacco or alcohol use
- Irregular heartbeats
Benefits of the Heart Failure Clinic at UPMC Western Maryland
If you are in our Heart Failure Clinic, you learn more about your heart disease and the best ways to keep it under control. This helps to reduce emergency room visits and hospital admissions, as well as improve your overall quality of life. As you steadily make progress, you are able to resume normal daily activities and enjoy an improved outlook about the future.
During the first visit to the Heart Failure Clinic, you will meet with a member of the UPMC Western Maryland cardiology team for approximately 90 minutes. This visit includes a thorough review of health history, a six-minute walk on a treadmill to determine your heart’s tolerance to exercise, and a survey to determine the degree to which your heart disease currently impacts your life.
Subsequent visits last approximately 30 minutes and may occur individually or as part of a group. The cardiologist will record your weight, complete a basic assessment, provide education, and review current medications. The team will establish a visitation schedule for you when you come in for the initial assessment. Additionally, you and your immediate family members are welcome to call with questions or concerns at any time.
Lifestyle Changes to Manage Heart Failure
One of the most important things you can do to reduce heart failure symptoms, as well as reduce the risk of a future heart attack, is to eat a heart-healthy diet. This means choosing foods low in cholesterol, trans fat, saturated fat, and sodium. Here are some other tips we advise you to follow:
- Quit smoking
- Lose weight if overweight or obese
- Avoid alcohol and limit caffeine
- Track daily fluid intake to prevent retention
- Monitor blood pressure
- Reduce stress and get enough sleep
- Receive vaccinations for flu and pneumonia
- Avoid socks and other clothing that fits too tightly
- Report any new symptoms to the cardiologist right away
Many health insurance companies cover this program to help prevent more costly treatment later.