Senior woman with chest pain suffering from heart attack during jogging

From Sharp Health News, a publication of Sharp HealthCare

For some, it’s the shortness of breath while exercising or a dry, hacking cough. For others, swelling in the abdomen, legs or ankles begins. There are a variety of symptoms — including sudden weight gain, fatigue, nausea and waking up with shortness of breath — that warn of heart failure. But not everyone heeds them as quickly as they should.

Congestive heart failure is caused by heart pump impairment, resulting in a variety of symptoms. The heart struggles to maintain output, the body holds onto extra fluid, and the vital organs don’t get enough oxygen. According to the CDC, approximately 6 million adults have heart failure in the U.S. — a number estimated to grow to 8 million by 2030.

Heart failure is caused by a variety of cardiac conditions, such as:

  • Coronary artery disease is caused by the buildup of plaque made up of cholesterol deposits in the wall of the arteries that supply blood to the heart, which causes the inside of the arteries to narrow over time.
  • Hypertension, which is commonly known as high blood pressure, occurs when the blood pressure in the arteries leading from the heart to the lungs is too high.
  • Valvular disease causes the valves of the heart to be unable to fully open and close during each heartbeat, thus ineffectively pumping blood throughout the body. The heart must then work harder to pump.
  • Cardiomyopathy happens when the heart muscle becomes enlarged or stiff. This can lead to inadequate heart pumping or other problems.
  • Arrhythmias, also known as irregular or unusually fast or slow heartbeats, can be serious if not identified and treated appropriately.

Each of these conditions can be influenced by genetics, such as race or family healthy history. Illnesses and lifestyle choices also play a role, including:

  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Advanced age
  • Diet high in saturated fats
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Consumption of too much alcohol
  • Smoking

Measurement of the heart’s level of performance, as well as managing some of the risk factors for heart disease, are among the first steps to treating heart failure. This can be accomplished through medication; support of smoking, alcohol and drug use cessation; and education about healthy diet and exercise.

Talk with your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of heart failure or have concerns about your heart health. Together, you can determine which lifestyle changes might improve your overall health and identify appropriate treatments to reduce your risk of disease and improve your quality of life.