Your heart has a big job. It has to circulate blood throughout your body. Conditions like coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and a myriad of other diseases place extra stress on your heart and demand a lot from your body. After a while, these conditions weaken your heart so that it doesn’t efficiently pump blood anymore. This is congestive heart failure – a long-term weakening of the heart that leads to a buildup of fluid in the lungs and body tissues – and it’s not uncommon. The American Heart Association estimates that 5.3 million Americans suffer from congestive heart failure.
Congestive heart failure, despite affecting so many people, is almost entirely preventable if the cause isn’t a congenital heart defect. Simply put – if you make bad lifestyle choices, it’s time to change them. This means you need to start exercising; eat a healthy diet that avoids bad fats, high cholesterol and sugar; manage stress; quit smoking and watch your alcohol intake. If these lifestyle changes are made and followed early on, your chances of being diagnosed with congestive heart failure are drastically reduced.
It Can’t Be Reversed
There are two types of congestive heart failure: systolic and diastolic. Systolic heat failure occurs when your heart has weakened to the point where it cannot effectively pump blood anymore. Diastolic heart failure describes what happens when the heart becomes stiff and cannot properly fill with blood during the resting period between each heartbeat. Once you have congestive heart failure, regardless of the type, there is nothing that can be done to reverse the damage that is present.
It Can Be Managed if Diagnosed Early
There is no set age for congestive heart failure to be diagnosed – it can affect young patients and patients of advanced age. While it can’t be reversed, it can be managed. If your congestive heart failure is the result of high blood pressure or diabetes, you can still make lifestyle changes that will help slow down the progression of the disease. Medications are also available that can help stop further heart muscle degeneration. If the disorder is in a very progressive state, surgery is sometimes the only option.
The bottom line is if you’re at risk for congestive heart failure because of lifestyle, a congenital issue or symptoms like swelling around the hands and feet or having difficulty breathing when you’re laying down, it’s time to call your doctor and see what changes need to be made to help get you healthy.
Dr. Chung Yoon is a board-certified cardiologist who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Main Campus. His clinical interests include noninvasive cardiology, echocardiography, nuclear cardiology and preventive cardiology.