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Heart Health: Learn the Signs of Heart Failure for National Heart Month

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February is nationally dedicated to cardiovascular health and helping Americans live longer lives. Prevention through lifestyle changes is key to managing some of the most common issues that plague the heart, including heart failure. More than six million adult Americans are currently suffering from heart failure, according to the American Heart Association. That number is projected to increase nearly 35% by 2030.

What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to your body because the muscle is weak or stiff. The heart is forced to work harder than expected, causing the heart chambers to overfill and causing fluid to build up in the lungs and other areas of your body. The most common causes of heart failure include coronary artery disease—a condition where blocked arteries cause decreased blood flow to the heart—and high blood pressure. While there is no cure for heart failure, it is often treatable. Recognizing the early signs of heart failure and managing the condition with a dedicated heart care team can lead to an active and full life. 

What are the Signs of Heart Failure?

Symptoms of heart failure can differ depending on the cause. They may come on suddenly or develop gradually over time, ranging from mild to severe. Signs of heart failure include:

  • Shortness of Breath: 

The left side of your heart receives blood with oxygen from the lungs and pumps it out to the rest of the body. When it doesn’t pump efficiently, it backs up into the lungs and causes shortness of breath. This difficulty breathing can often make routine activities more difficult. 

  • Swollen Feet or Legs:

The right side of your heart pumps blood from your legs to your lungs. If it becomes weak, it backs fluid up throughout your body, causing swelling. 

  • Fast/Irregular Heartbeat:

If your heart is not strong enough to pump effectively, then it will pump faster to do its job, resulting in a racing heartbeat or even irregular heart rhythms.

  • Fatigue & Dizziness:

When the heart is failing, it may not send enough oxygen to your brain, causing you to feel extremely tired or fatigued and lacking the energy for normal activities. In more severe cases, it can also cause memory impairment.

Heart failure patients have also noted symptoms of chest pain, upset stomach, decreased appetite, rapid weight gain and the need to sleep in a chair or recliner. It is important to see a doctor if experiencing any of these signs to ensure a proper diagnosis. 

How to Manage a Heart Failure Diagnosis?

Healthy lifestyle changes and the support of a committed heart care team can make a big difference in living a longer, more enjoyable life with this disease. Each person is unique, and requires a treatment plan that matches their needs. 

  • Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet

A healthy weight can help lower your blood pressure and your heart rate. Eat more fruits, vegetables, grains and lean meats and avoid foods high in fat and sugars. Also, limit sodium or salt, which can result in retaining more fluid. Too much fluid makes the heart pump harder and leads to shortness of breath, fatigue, weight gain and swelling. 

  • Stay Active with Routine Exercise

Regular aerobic exercise can help you notice a change in heart failure symptoms sooner. Patients with heart failure should consider aerobic exercise under the direction of a heart care team or a medically supervised cardiac rehabilitation program. We typically recommend walking at least 30 minutes daily (‘walk only on the days that you eat!’).

  • Take Heart Failure Medications

To reduce symptoms and slow the progression of the disease, heart failure medications are commonly prescribed. Medications such as diuretics help reduce fluid retention, while other medications like beta blockers increase the heart’s strength. It is important to take the medications as prescribed and consistently to be most effective.

What Resources are Available at The Queen’s Health System?

The Queen’s Heart Institute offers comprehensive cardiovascular care for patients and provides the only heart failure disease management program in the state of Hawaii. The Queen’s Advanced Heart Failure Clinic offers a team-based approach, bringing together a range of specialists to provide personalized care in both the hospital and clinic settings. The American Heart Association recognized the outstanding program and dedicated heart care team with a 2021 ‘Get with the Guidelines’ Heart Failure Gold Award.    
To learn more about the Queen’s Advanced Heart Failure Clinic, visit www.queens.org/heart.


1https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/epdf/10.1161/CIR.0000000000001052

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