One of the questions many of our patients have is “do I have congestive heart failure?” We can sense the patient’s concern, especially with the word “failure.” When you’ve only got one heart, “failure” sounds scary.
After understanding the patient’s symptoms, doing a physical examination, and getting the necessary test results, our next step is to assess the patient’s heart. There are three primary types of heart conditions that can lead to failure:
Our goal in heart failure treatment is first to understand what stresses your heart is under and then deal with them. In the case of a weakened heart, for example, we often prescribe medications to manage blood pressure, reduce the forces against which the heart has to pump blood, and also help the heart to physically get stronger, if possible. We also counsel patients limit their fluid and salt intake – as well as take a daily weight -- so that the heart pumps blood and not extra fluids. Other advice includes avoiding alcohol, which can cause a weak heart to get even weaker, and to exercise prudently.
What are the effects of treatment? In some cases – such as a partially blocked coronary artery – placing a stent or another type of intervention may solve the problem. In some cases, medications and changes in personal habits may strengthen your heart. In other cases, the heart impairment is permanent, however medications and behavioral changes can lead to “compensated” heart failure, where you can continue to lead a near-normal lifestyle.
When should you be suspicious of having heart failure? The most common symptom of congestive heart failure is shortness of breath with exertion. In fact, if you don’t have this symptom, research tells us that you are 84% likely not to have the condition. If you wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air, there is an 84% change that you do have the condition, though we would also have you tested for sleep apnea.
Heart failure is a serious condition, but one that we can work on together. If you have any questions regarding your symptoms and treatment, please let us know.