Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle cannot properly pump blood to be delivered throughout the body. Since heart failure can potentially develop fatal conditions, being aware of its early signs and lifestyle modifications remain crucially vital. Heart Failure Awareness Week, annually held from 11-17 February aims to increase national awareness about the severity of heart failure and ask the public to take action of self-care strategies to stay away from this disease.
Get to know “heart failure”
Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands for blood and oxygen supply. Basically, the heart cannot keep up with its workload. Certain conditions that eventually cause heart failure include narrowed arteries in the heart (coronary artery disease), myocardial infarction, high blood pressure, heart valve disease, infection as well as other conditions that gradually leave the heart too weak or stiff to fill and pump efficiently. In heart failure, the main pumping chambers of the heart (the ventricles) may become stiff and not fill properly between beats. In some cases of heart failure, heart muscle might be damaged and the ventricles dilate reaching the point that the heart cannot pump blood efficiently throughout the body.
A combination of factors those increase risks of developing heart failure may include:
- High blood pressure
- Coronary artery disease with narrowed arteries
- Irregular heartbeats
- Certain medications
- Congenital heart defect
- Valvular heart disease
- Viral infections of the heart muscle
- Sleep apnea
- Lifestyle related factors e.g. alcohol use, smoking, obesity and overweight
Seven warning signs and symptoms
Heart failure signs and symptoms may include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Feeling uncomfortable and reduced ability to exercise
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea) especially during exerting or lying down
- Sleep disruption during night time due to persistent cough, wheezing or breathing difficulty
- Swelling (edema) in legs, ankles and feet
- Dizziness and feeling faint
- Increased need to urinate at night
Prevention is the key
The best possible way to prevent heart failure is to reduce potential risk factors. If contributing factors are controlled or eliminated, risks to develop heart failure significantly are diminished. Lifestyle changes that help preventing heart failure include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight. Excess weight may cause changes to the heart that make it work harder to send blood throughout the body. Weight reduction is highly recommended if obese or overweight.
- Salty food must be strictly avoided. Consuming too much salt causes the body to keep or retain too much water, worsening the fluid buildup that happens with heart failure. Keeping away from all forms of salt is suggested e.g. fish sauce, salt, salty food, canned food, fermented food, instant diets.
- Alcohol consumption and smoking must be limited or discontinued. Alcohol and chemicals in tobacco weaken the heart muscle and impair heart function, leading to increased chance of heart conditions including heart failure.
- Reducing and managing excessive stress e.g. meditation, leisure activities and traveling.
- Having regular exercise at least 30 minutes/day to stay physically active
- In case of heart disease has already developed, lifestyle modifications include:
- In case of quick weight loss, in order to prevent malnutrition, easy-to-digest food is recommended with small portions but frequently taken.
- Daily weighing with recording is suggested. If weight increases 1 kg within 1-2 days, fluid retention or edema might be suspected and immediate medical attention must be urgently provided.
- In case of swelling with indentation (pit) after pressing on the area (pitting edema), urgent care must be sought.
- Salty foods must be strictly avoided.
- Controlling certain conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. If abnormal signs exhibit, medical attention must be provided.
- Long and alone journey, especially on the plane must be avoided.
- Exercise should be skipped if feeling weak, tired or unfit.
To reduce possible risks of developing heart diseases including heart failure, it is highly recommended to have healthy diet and sufficient rest as well as appropriate and regular exercise. More importantly, annual health checkups and heart screening are essential in order to detect any abnormalities as soon as possible. Early diagnosis greatly contributes to timely and effective treatments.