Myths and facts about heart failure
(Fourth of a series)
Heart Failure (HF) puts a heavy burden on patients and their families.
HF markedly affects patients’ quality of life. Fear, anxiety and depression are common. Work, travel and day-to-day social and leisure activities are difficult for HF patients with breathlessness and extreme fatigue.
Approximately half of HF patients have a reduced ejection fraction (HF-rEF), a type of HF that has the worst prognosis. Ejection fraction (EF) is an important measurement in determining how well the heart is pumping out blood, and is also useful in diagnosing and monitoring HF. Although survival rates among patients with HF-rEF have improved in recent years, mortality remains high.
In our previous columns, we learned that heart failure is a serious life-threatening condition in which the heart weakens and cannot pump enough blood to fully meet the oxygen demand of the body.
Many people die prematurely because of lack of awareness on the causes and symptoms of heart failure. Heart failure is preventable and a healthy lifestyle can reduce risk.
Dispelling myths and disseminating facts about heart failure can help people recognize early symptoms and seek medical attention promptly. Moreover, new effective treatments are now available to manage heart failure, reduce hospitalizations and prolong patients’ lives.
The patient website of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), heartfailurematters.org, provides the following helpful information:
Myth: Heart failure means your heart has stopped beating.
Heart failure does not mean your heart has stopped beating. Heart failure occurs when your heart muscle or valves have been damaged and so your heart is not able to pump blood around your body as well as it should.
Fact: Heart failure can kill.
Heart failure is a very serious condition and can shorten your life. However, by working with your doctor and nurse you can get effective treatments and make changes to your lifestyle that will both ease your symptoms and also prolong your life.
Fact: Heart failure is common.
One in five people aged over 40 will develop heart failure in their lifetime, and patient numbers are increasing. Heart failure is a growing problem in Southeast Asia fueled by a rapidly growing population with HF risk factors, particularly hypertension and diabetes. Although there are currently no definitive local statistics on the prevalence of heart failure, the latest National Nutrition and Health Survey (NNHeS) conducted in 2013 show that many Filipinos have risk factors for heart failure. These include hypertension, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Myth: Heart failure cannot be treated.
There are many treatments available for heart failure that are very effective at reducing symptoms and delaying the progression of the condition. You should discuss your treatment options with your doctor.
Myth: If you have heart failure you shouldn’t exercise.
It is very important for people with heart failure to exercise. However, it is also important that you don’t overdo it. The right amount of exercise can help improve blood flow and alleviate some of your symptoms.
Choose an activity that you enjoy, as you will be more likely to do it regularly. Exercising with a friend also helps, as you will be able to encourage each other. Walking is a good activity to start with. Talk to your doctor about the exercise regimen that’s right for you.
Myth: Heart failure is a normal consequence of getting old.
Although most people with heart failure are elderly, heart failure is not necessarily a part of the aging process. It is a cardiovascular condition that can be prevented and greatly helped with available treatments.
There’s no question that this heart condition is serious. But the good news is that there is a lot of understanding about the condition and a number of effective treatments available and in development.
The booklet a Quick Guide to Living with Heart Failure (http://www.keepitpumping.com/en/what-is-heart-failure/) discusses some elements that will allow a patient to start his journey of conquering the challenges of living with the condition. It starts with the important advice of staying positive.
(Dr. Alex T. Junia, president of the Philippine Heart Association 2015-2016, completed his medical degree at the Cebu Institute of Medicine and finished his Fellowship in Cardiology at the Philippine Heart Center. The PHA is an organization of cardiovascular specialists and lay members that ensure accessible, affordable and quality cardiovascular education and care for everyone. For more information, visit www.philheart.org.)
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