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Heart failure is a serious, but manageable condition

June 20, 2012

The following article was contributed by Dr. Kenneth Phillips, Jr., a board-certified cardiologist with Aurora Advanced Healthcare in Grafton. He can be reached at 262 329-8150 or 262 375-3700.

The words “heart failure” can sound a little scary, however, it’s important to understand what the term means and its impact on an individual. With heart failure the heart doesn’t actually fail to work — it just doesn’t pump blood as forcefully as it should. It is estimated that about five million people in this country are impacted by heart failure.

With heart failure, blood moves through the heart and body at a slower rate even though pressure in the heart increases. This eventually reduces blood flow to the kidneys, liver and other organs and allows fluid to build up elsewhere in the body.

Heart failure can be caused by many conditions including coronary artery disease, a heart attack, cardiomyopathy and other conditions that overwork the heart.

There are two types of heart failure:

Systolic dysfunction – occurs when the heart muscle doesn’t contract with enough force, so less oxygen-rich blood is pumped throughout the body.

Diastolic dysfunction – occurs when the heart contracts normally, but the main pumping chamber does not relax properly, reducing the amount of blood that enters the heart and raising blood pressure in the lungs.

Heart failure is often a “silent” disease. Not all heart failure patients show symptoms such as swollen legs or belly, bulging neck veins, coughing or shortness of breath.

That is why it’s important to address known risk factors including high blood pressure and diabetes.

The American Heart Association offers some questions that patients diagnosed with this condition might want to ask their health care provider. They include:

What's my diagnosis?
Is the heart failure mild? Moderate? Severe?
What should we expect within the next few weeks, months and years?
How is the condition likely to progress?
What are some specific ways that daily life will change? Can I or my family member still work, play golf, have sex, do the laundry? (fill in whatever activity you're wondering about)
What are the most important things we can do to manage this condition?
What will happen if a person with heart failure slips back into old habits (such as smoking)?
Do you recommend a cardiac rehabilitation program? If so, where will it take place? How often?
If any symptoms seem to get worse or change suddenly, what's the best way for us to contact you?
Today health care providers have a number of medical and surgical options to reduce mortality and improve a patient’s quality of life when heart failure is diagnosed.

So, take heart. Heart failure can be a manageable chronic condition if patients receive the right care and are treated effectively.

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