Heart failure: America’s silent epidemic

Heart failure is a condition that affects nearly 5 million Americans and is the cause of more hospitalizations than all forms of cancer combined.

Additionally, 25 percent of patients admitted to the hospital with heart failure will readmit within 30 days, and approximately 550,000 cases of heart failure are diagnosed each year.

Yet many people with heart failure are unaware that they have it, because many of the common symptoms are often mistaken for normal signs of aging.

Many believe that heart failure means your heart is going to suddenly stop working, but this isn’t entirely true. It’s a common misconception. Rather, heart failure is the failure of the heart to pump effectively enough to meet the demands of the body.

The heart’s main function is to pump blood to all the areas of the body, including the lungs and when the heart cannot keep up, fluids and blood can get backed up or congested.

It is like a three-lane interstate undergoing construction that leads to lane closures. Now, the same amount of vehicles need to pass but are limited to only one lane.

Naturally, congestion will occur. As fluid backs up in your body, it tends to collect in the lungs, lower extremities, and abdomen. The result is feeling short of breath (especially on exertion or when lying flat), developing edema/swelling in the lower extremities (usually occurs bilaterally), and developing bloating in the abdomen which can cause you to feel a sense of fullness or nausea. The heart begins to work as hard as it can to catch up, leading to fatigue.

Be aware of the risks for heart failure include heart attack, long-term high blood pressure, abnormalities in one or more of the heart’s valves, heart murmurs, enlargement of the heart, a family history of enlarged hearts and diabetes.

Even after understanding the risks, it’s quite possible that you may exhibit some symptoms without knowing the true underlying cause. Be aware of a shortness of breath, sudden weight gain of three to five pounds per week, general fatigue and weakness and difficulty breathing while lying down.

Early diagnosis and treatment are vital, so become familiar with the symptoms of heart failure and be sure to share them with your loved ones. If you or anyone you know are exhibiting these symptoms, call a physician.

About the author

Jennifer Blackmon, RN
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Jennifer is the Heart Failure Coordinator for Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, where she focuses on educating patients and staff to reduce readmissions. In her spare time, she enjoys quality time with family and friends.

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Heart failure: America’s silent epidemic