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The Cardiologist's Wife - Taking Care of Your Heart
Nov 29, 2017

The heart is a strong muscle that pumps oxygen and nutrient rich blood throughout the body. Occasionally, the heart becomes too weak or stiff to fill and pump blood effectively. This leads to a chronic condition known as heart failure. People usually develop heart failure because they have, or had, another heart condition like heart disease, high blood pressure or a heart attack. Heart failure is a serious condition that tends to get progressively worse and there is no cure. The good news is that it can be managed with medications and lifestyle changes so that you can live a longer, more active life.

In addition to the above mentioned conditions, you may be at risk for developing heart failure if you have a family history of heart failure, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, a history of alcohol abuse or you have taken certain drugs that can damage heart muscle, such as some cancer drugs.

It sounds drastic, but heart failure doesn’t mean your heart actually quits working. Instead, your heart muscle may become stiff, damaged or weakened, or the ventricles stretched, so that your heart can’t keep up with the body’s demand for blood and oxygen. Sometimes blood backs up or congests in the lungs, causing shortness of breath, or into your abdomen, legs and feet, causing swelling of the extremities.

Potential warning signs or symptoms of heart failure include:

- shortness of breath during activity, at rest or while sleeping
- needing to prop up on 2 or more pillows to sleep
- persistent coughing, which may include pinkish phlegm
- swelling in the feet, ankles, legs or abdomen
- sudden weight gain from fluid retention
- feeling tired all the time, difficulty with everyday activities
- lack of appetite or nausea
- confused thinking or difficulty concentrating
- increased heart rate
- lightheadedness
- rapid heartbeat

If you think you have symptoms of heart failure, see a doctor as soon as possible. There are a variety of medications used to treat heart failure or you may need surgery such as coronary bypass, heart valve replacement or repair. Defibrillators and pacemakers may also help. Always seek emergency care if you have a sudden onset of symptoms or if you have a diagnosis of heart failure and your symptoms suddenly become worse.

You can help yourself feel better by working closely with your doctor and following his or her recommendations. Keep a list of all medications you take and be sure to share it with any new doctors you see. Avoid other the counter medicines like ibuprofen or diet pills with may worsen heart failure and fluid buildup. Keep track of your weight so that you are aware of sudden changes which may mean you are retaining too much fluid. Never stop taking your medication without talking with your doctor.

Lifestyle changes can make a big difference as well so stay as active as you can, stop smoking and maintain a healthy weight by eating nutritious foods. Avoid salt and alcohol as too much sodium contributes to fluid retention and alcohol may weaken your heart muscle further or interact with your medicine. As with any disease, you can help yourself by keeping a good attitude and doing your best to take good care of yourself.

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