Skip to main content

According to the National Council on Aging, heart failure is one of the top 10 chronic health conditions among those 65 and older in the United States. It is also a leading cause of hospitalization. The American Heart Association (AHA) states that about 5.7 million Americans are living with heart failure.  

As with many other chronic health conditions, receiving appropriate treatment is key to managing the disease and optimizing quality of life. This column will look at the symptoms and causes with the hopes that preventive health care and making healthy life choices can reduce one’s risk of developing heart failure.

According to the AHA, heart failure occurs when the heart muscle has weakened preventing the heart from pumping enough blood throughout the body. Over time, the heart wall can also become enlarged. The end result of heart failure is the body does not get enough blood, food, and oxygen.  

Warning signs of heart failure include shortness of breath; feeling tired and weak; confusion; rapid weight gain from fluid retention; swelling in the abdomen, feet, ankles, and legs; coughing, especially when lying down or exercising; nausea and/or lack of appetite.  

It is important to seek immediate medical attention if experiencing chest pain which can also be a symptom of a heart attack, severe weakness/fainting, sudden and severe shortness of breath, or rapid or irregular heartbeat with shortness of breath. 

Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of heart failure. This is when the arteries develop plaque and become narrow affecting the supply of blood to the heart. Other reasons include but are not limited to high blood pressure, a prior heart attack, heart defects since birth, diabetes, obesity, thyroid issues, drug and alcohol abuse, and specific forms of chemotherapy. Other irregularities and diseases of the heart can also contribute to heart failure.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the following can trigger an acute onset of heart failure: allergic reactions, blood clots in the lungs, severe infections, the use of certain medications, a virus harming the heart muscle, or any illness that affects the whole body. 

The key to preventing heart failure and minimizing risk involves managing any chronic health conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes, eating healthy, getting physical exercise, and decreasing stress.

Additionally, if diagnosed with heart failure, it is advised to limit salt intake, follow your physicians’ recommendations, monitor weight gain for fluid retention (call the doctor if you gain more than 2-3 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week), take all medications as directed, and track daily fluid intake.

(Sources: American Heart Association and Mayo Clinic)

Column is written by Laura Falt, director of business development in Connecticut. Laura welcomes the opportunity to be a resource to the community on services for older adults and is often featured in local publications.