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A Guide to Heart Failure

Heart failure is without a doubt one of the most frightening conditions one could be diagnosed with. However it does not mean as the name implies that your heart has failed and will stop working at any moment. There are lots of things that can be done to help those with this condition and those who are diagnosed with heart failure can live for many years to come.

What is it?

When one is said to have heart failure this means that your heart is not pumping the blood around your body in an effective manner. This condition usually occurs secondary to something else that causes damage to your heart such as a heart attack. There are several different types of heart failure and the particular type that you have is very dependent upon what part of your heart is damaged. Heart failure is an incredibly common condition and is becoming more common as people live for longer.

People with heart failure often say that they feel short of breath; in fact this is the most common complaint. Those who have heart failure often find that they become short of breath doing everyday tasks and lying down flat becomes difficult for the same reason. Those with heart failure often feel exhausted and much of this comes about from the fact that your heart does not pump enough blood to your muscles. Another thing that happens is that your body cannot get rid of water in the same way that it used to and so it hangs onto it. This can cause a number of things to happen; some people cough up pink and frothy phlegm. This extra water will also make your feet, ankles and legs swell up and get puffy. If you notice that you have any of the above things going on then you should visit your doctor and they can examine you properly. The doctor will need to distinguish heart failure from that of many other conditions that can mimic heart failure.


Fortunately as with most medical conditions there are many things that can help. There are medications that can keep those symptoms well controlled and will help you live for longer. The main reason that those with heart failure have to go to hospital is because they stop taking their medications. The reason for this is that many people do not like taking medicines when they are not feeling sick, however the thing with heart failure is that even if you are not feeling sick all the time you must never stop your meds. If you do stop taking them then it is almost certain that your condition will worsen and you will have to go to hospital. Although it is true that the doctors will be able to make you feel better again most of the time, every time you let things get bad there will be irreversible damage done to your heart. As always eating well and exercising are absolutely critical and even if you cannot exercise lots, as you are getting short of breath you should do as much as possible as every little bit helps.

Medications that you need to take will most probably be vast in number and all of them will work on different parts of your body to keep you symptom free. Most doctors will recommend that you take a combination of ACE inhibitors, Beta blockers and diuretics. The ACE-inhibitors work by widening the blood vessels and this will take some of the strain off your heart, as the heart finds it difficult pumping against narrow vessels. ACE inhibitors have been shown to lengthen life, reduce the number of heart attacks and stop you from needing to go to the hospital as much, however they do give some people a nasty dry cough. The diuretics help you to get rid of some of the fluid that you can store in your body when you have heart failure. Extra fluid makes you feel short of breath and causes swelling in your legs, the diuretics help to get rid of this. Beta-blockers work with the other medications to increase the benefit by slowing down your heart rate; these medications should not be used if you have asthma.

Will I be OK?

When the doctor tells you that you have a condition such as heart failure you may be shocked and will probably want to know how this will affect your life in the future. Unfortunately there is no rule for how those with heart failure will do in the long run. This is because some people do very well and others become very symptomatic early on. Most importantly you should always take your medications, as they will help you to live longer and have less trips to the hospital. There is a lot of research that says those who live active lives and eat well do the best but everyone is variable and there is no one size fits all.

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