Heart Health

Managing a Heart Failure Diagnosis

Share This

By Henry Ford Health System Staff

You might be surprised to know that heart failure doesn’t mean your heart just stops working. In fact, living with heart failure is a reality for over 5.7 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Heart failure is a condition where your heart does not pump blood as well as it should. Your heart is responsible for pumping blood and oxygen to all the different organs in your body, meaning it is constantly at work. When your heart struggles to properly circulate blood and oxygen, it can cause some serious issues.

Symptoms of Heart Failure

When you attend your regular check-ups, your heart health should always be assessed – especially if you are at a greater risk of a heart condition. Talk with your doctor if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in your legs
  • Rapid weight changes (as much as 5 pounds in a day)
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat

If your doctor has concerns, he or she might order an echocardiogram – ultrasound images of your heart in action. This can be used to assess the heart’s squeezing function as well as valves and other potential issues.

Know Your Risk

According to David Lanfear, M.D., a cardiologist at Henry Ford Health System, as you get older, your risk of heart failure does increase.

“Cases of heart failure are more common as you get older,” says Dr. Lanfear. “It is important to remember that there are several common conditions that can increase your risk of heart failure, but many of these can be treated and improved.”

Some of these conditions include:

  • Coronary artery disease (blockages in the arteries that feed the heart)
  • Past heart attacks
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart valve problems
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Living with Heart Failure

Heart failure is a chronic condition – meaning there is no cure.

“Although heart failure is dangerous, it can also be very well treated, and people can live normal, vibrant lives after a diagnosis, especially when they make lifestyle changes that promote heart health,” says Dr. Lanfear.

So how should you get started?

  1. Talk with your cardiologist. There may be medications that you can take to help improve heart function. These medications have been proven to increase survivorship and reduce hospital visits among people with heart failure. Your doctor can help you decide if they will work for you.
  2. Know your numbers. Maintaining good blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels are key to heart health. If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, it is important to consistently monitor these numbers and work to keep them in the optimal range.
  3. Modify your lifestyle. Living healthier isn’t always easy but is a critical factor to successfully managing after a heart failure diagnosis. Act to protect your heart and improve your overall well-being by:
  4. Try cardiac rehab. A cardiac rehabilitation program is a great way to learn more about heart health while gaining new skills to help you adjust to your new normal. You’ll often work with exercise physiologists, registered dietitians and other experts to gain the confidence to make permanent heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Talk to your doctor to see if this would be an option for you.

Living with heart failure and adjusting your lifestyle does take time and is a serious commitment. But, with proper resources and care, it is possible to manage your condition and live a full life.

How healthy is your heart? Take the heart risk quiz to find out. Then, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or find a heart expert at henryford.com or by calling 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. David Lanfear is a cardiologist specializing in advanced heart failure and heart transplant. He sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.