WATCH: Treatment Options Help Half a Million Americans Live With This Heart Disease


This blog post is part of the Google+ Healthy Hangouts series on breaking and timely health news.

Congestive heart failure. Even the name of this chronic heart condition sounds scary.

Though heart failure is certainly a very serious disease, advances in prevention and treatment has made it more manageable than ever before. A few decades ago, individuals diagnosed with heart failure could only expect to live a few years. Today, they may live for 20 or 25 years or longer with an ever-improving quality of life.

During this Hangout on heart failure, I am joined by two physicians who are very familiar with the condition and its treatment. David Rawitscher, MD, a cardiologist on the medical staff at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano and Cherese Wiley, MD, an internal medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical at Dallas.

What Is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is the inability of the heart to effectively pump blood throughout the body in order to meet the body’s demand. Like many chronic diseases, there are stages of heart failure and its effects vary accordingly.

The most classic symptom of heart failure is shortness of breath. Other symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Feeling poorly overall

There is no one cause for heart failure. It can be the result of a weakened heart (possibly due to heart attacks or other heart issues), bad valves, or a heart that doesn’t relax properly.

Regardless of the cause, Dr. Rawitscher says that knowing your family history and knowing and managing risk factors is critical in preventing heart failure or keeping it from worsening. Risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes

A Team Approach to Care

Team health care plays a vital role for patients managing heart disease. In fact, Dr. Rawitscher says that new heart failure clinics like the one at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano are helping patients by acting as a single resource capable of addressing the many different aspects of heart failure care.

These clinics are staffed not only with physicians, but other caregivers, such as advanced nurse practitioners, dieticians and even social workers who can help manage the impact the disease has on work and home life.

Treatment approaches include lifestyle changes, medications, newer pacemakers, and, for severe cases, left ventricular-assist devices and heart transplantation.

Dr. Wiley stresses the importance of diet in preventing and treating heart failure, especially when it comes to sodium intake. Sodium (salt) can cause the body to retain fluid, which can make heart failure worse.

To limit sodium intake, Dr. Wiley recommends using other herbs and spices rather than salt to season food, staying away from processed foods, and eating fresh or frozen vegetables rather than canned vegetables.

Watch the entire Hangout for more on heart failure and how the 500,000 Americans diagnosed with it each year can better manage their condition.

About the author

David Winter, MD
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David Winter, MD, is an internal medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Signature Medicine – Tom Landry.

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WATCH: Treatment Options Help Half a Million Americans Live With This Heart Disease