Dr. Jeff Harp of Highland Family Medicine discussed the symptoms and causes of congestive heart failure and some of the steps we can take to avoid it Thursday during News 8 at Sunrise.
“When a person has congestive heart failure it means that their heart fails to pump blood well enough to keep the blood moving through the normal circulation,” Dr. Harp explained. “Instead, blood backs up behind the heart, waiting to be pumped to its next location. This backup occurs most commonly in the lungs or legs.”
Dr. Harp said for symptoms people generally have shortness of breath caused either by inadequate blood flow or by accumulation of fluid waiting to be pumped. People are more short of breath when they try to exercise because the heart cannot keep up with the demand of the body for oxygen carrying blood. Shortness of breath is often made worse when lying flat because the blood and lymph which have been backing up into the legs begins to put more pressure on the heart as the fluid tries to leave the legs.
There are many causes of heart failure. “A heart attack can cause part of the heart to not function well so that it works less effectively as a pump,” said Dr. Harp. “Long-standing uncontrolled blood pressure – untreated hypertension – and uncontrolled blood sugar – diabetes – both can injure the whole heart and cause it to not pump well. Some infections, including certain viruses, can affect the heart muscle and weaken it. Any sort of inflammatory condition like sarcoidosis can also cause heart failure.”
A total of 2% of the population older than 45 years has heart failure. “Controlling the conditions which can cause heart failure is the best way to prevent heart failure from developing,” Dr. Harp advised. “This means controlling blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Part of controlling all of these conditions involves maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Smoking is also a significant risk factor for heart failure.”
People already diagnosed with congestive heart failure can take proactive measures as well. Dr. Harp said they should continue to work on controlling their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol – all important parts of treating heart failure.
This was part one of a two part conversation on congestive heart failure that will continue next week with a closer look at more specific treatments.