By Joseph Hanna
ALTHOUGH HEART FAILURE may sound
like a heart attack, it’s actually quite di;erent,
and about 600,000 Americans are currently
living with this condition.
Unlike a heart attack (or myocardial
infarction), where the arteries that bring blood
and oxygen to the heart are blocked, with
heart failure the heart muscle becomes damaged for one or more reasons and is unable to
pump blood throughout the body as well as it
should. It is also not able to relax and ;ll with
blood properly, causing the extra ;uid to back
up into the lungs and other parts of the body.
Heart failure generally doesn’t happen
overnight. It is usually a lifelong condition
that can get worse over time. ;e two most
common causes are high blood pressure and
the long-term consequences of a heart
attack. Having diabetes, being overweight,
having high cholesterol and drinking too
much alcohol or smoking are also risk factors for heart failure.
;is is why many health-care professionals recommend keeping your heart healthy by
eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, limiting daily alcohol intake to three
standard drinks for men and two standard
Demystifying heart failure
drinks for women, not smoking and controlling blood pressure.
Fluid buildup may cause the following
symptoms: shortness of breath, especially
when lying down; sudden weight gain (e.g., 3
pounds over one or two days); and/or swelling of the legs, ankles or feet.
People with heart failure may also have
some chest pain, feel tired and dizzy or have
cold hands and feet because less blood is
being supplied to the body. Diagnosis usually
involves a blood test and a number of special
tests that look at the function of the heart and
lungs, which may include such tests as chest
X-ray, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram or
even a cardiac MRI in some cases.
In addition to taking on a healthier lifestyle, treatment may include several types of
prescription medications taken together.
Beta-blockers ensure that the heart is not
working too hard. Angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitors help protect the
heart in di;erent ways, and the “water pills”
furosemide and spironolactone prevent ;uid
buildup. Sometimes digoxin is used to
strengthen the heartbeat.
While these medications will not cure
heart failure, they will help manage the
symptoms, slow the progression of the disease and help prevent hospitalization from
complications. A two- to three-month cardiac rehabilitation program, if available near
you, can help kick-start recovery and solidify
a healthier lifestyle.
For more information on heart failure,
visit the Heart & Stroke Foundation at heartand
Joseph Hanna, B.Sc. Phm., CDE, CGP,
is director of Costco Pharmacy in Canada.
for your health
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