Understanding Heart Failure Can Save Lives

By: Savannah Scarborough, Follow South Jersey Intern

CAMDEN, N.J. – Cooper University Health Care heeds all New Jersey residents to recognize the risks of heart failure, for 6.2 million Americans are struggling with heart failure effects right now, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 

Heart failure occurs as the result of two issues. One issue is insufficient pumping of blood throughout the body to the heart for your body’s needs, known as systolic heart failure (cooperandinspira.org). And second, abnormal relaxation or stiffness of the heart, known as diastolic heart failure (cooperandinspira.org). 

Heart failure does not always mean your heart has stopped, but it does mean that your heart has slowed. With this, your condition can worsen, possibly leading to a disability or death, if not dealt with correctly. 

Heart failure does not mean the heart is damaged like a heart attack. However, it does mean that blood is not flowing through your body as needed, meaning blood flow is slowing, and blood pressure in the heart is rising. These actions then affect the heart’s chamber, commanding it to expand to hold more blood, pump more blood to the body, or become thick and stiff. These biological responses to heart failure may keep blood flowing for some time but will weaken the heart over time. 

Living with heart failure can be a chronic lifelong condition that requires treatment. It also may be acute, meaning it occurs suddenly and requires immediate medical attention. 

“Heart failure can be a serious diagnosis, but effective management can prevent the condition from worsening,” says Dr. Ketan Gala, MD, FACC, Medical Director of the Advanced Heart Failure program at Cooper University Health Care. “With proper treatment and monitoring, patients can live full and active lifestyles with a heart failure diagnosis.” 

Although there is currently no cure for heart failure, there are treatments and other options that can improve symptoms and help patients live longer healthier lives. Many heart failure patients receive an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) to keep track of their heart rhythm and send small shocks if the heart falls out of that rhythm. Surgery is necessary to repair or replace damaged heart valves in more severe cases. 

Knowing what makes heart failure different from a heart attack is important. Heart attacks occur when the heart’s blood is blocked, allowing zero blood flow to the body. Heart attacks usually occur by a buildup of plaque in the arteries, which causes damage to the heart muscles. 

A heart attack occurs suddenly and blocks and cuts an individual’s blood flow, leading to a loss of oxygen and causing the heart muscles and the individual to die. Contrastly, heart failure occurs gradually, and the heart muscle becomes weaker over time. Heart attacks are more severe and life-threatening than heart failure. 

Anyone is at risk for heart failure. However, suppose you experience heart attacks, viral infections, valve problems, an unhealthy lifestyle, or other diseases and conditions. In that case, you are at a higher potential risk.

“Anyone can develop heart failure, but it is more common in people with certain risk factors, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or a family history of heart failure,” Dr. Gala says. “People over the age of 65 are also at greater risk.” 

It is vital to know the warning signs of heart failure. These signs include: fatigue and weakness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, swelling in the legs, ankles, or abdomen, inability to perform everyday activities, shortness of breath when lying down or with regular activity, persistent coughing or wheezing, rapid weight gain from fluid retention, and nausea or lack of appetite. 

There are many ways to reduce your risk of heart failure or the symptoms you may feel resulting from heart failure. Experts suggest: getting regular exercise to improve your heart function and reduce fluid retention, eating a healthy diet and limiting salt intake, avoiding smoking, managing stress, and seeing your doctor regularly. 

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, data shows an increased risk of cardiovascular complications after contracting mild or severe COVID-19 symptoms. 

A study published in Nature Medicine in February says the risk of heart problems one year after a COVID-19 infection is “substantial.” These heart problems directly include heart failure. 

Nature Medicine researchers found that after one year, those who had COVID-19 were 63% more likely to have a type of cardiovascular issue, adding 45 more cases per 1,000 people. In rare cases, “smoldering inflammation around the heart or in the heart” can occur, Dr. Siddharth Singh, director of the post-COVID-19 cardiology clinic at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said. 

According to 2022 research from the CDC, on average, about 697,000 people die from heart disease in the United States annually, accumulating to one in every five deaths (CDC). With this, the earlier you catch signs of heart failure and contact your doctor, the higher your chances are of regaining a healthy heart and living a healthy life. 

If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of heart failure or any other cardiovascular condition, seek help from your doctor or make an appointment with a cardiac specialist at Cooper and Inspira Cardiac Care. For more information, visit http://www.CooperandInspira.org.

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