Heart Failure

Heart failure can make it more difficult for you to do things that may have been easy for you in the past. Having heart failure does not mean that you cannot live a full life; it means that you need to take an active role in understanding your disease and taking care of yourself.

What is heart failure?
Heart failure—also called congestive heart failure or CHF—occurs when the heart’s pumping action fails to work properly. The term “heart failure” simply means that the heart is not pumping blood as well as it should. Heart failure does not mean imminent loss of life, that your heart has stopped, or even that you are having a heart attack. The heart either cannot fill with enough blood or cannot pump enough blood out. (See How the Heart Works.)

Heart failure can affect either side or both sides of the heart. Most cases occur in the left side where the heart cannot pump enough oxygen-rich blood to nourish the body.

Heart failure can come on suddenly, but usually it develops gradually. The chances of developing heart failure increase with age. It is a serious condition that affects about 550,000 people in the United States and causes about 300,000 deaths a year.

What causes it?
High blood pressure, diabetes and coronary artery disease are the most common causes of heart failure. Other causes include aortic valve disease, mitral valve disease, arrhythmia, congenital heart disease, and heart tumor. All these disorders damage the heart muscle. Sometimes there is no known cause for your heart failure.

Smoking, certain lung diseases, thyroid disorders, obesity, alcohol abuse, cocaine use, and a family history of heart problems can contribute to heart failure.

What are the symptoms of heart failure?
The most common warning signs of heart failure are difficulty breathing or shortness of breath while active or after lying down, tiredness, and coughing. These symptoms are caused by a buildup of fluids in the lungs.

Other symptoms are weight gain; swelling of the feet, ankles, or abdomen; frequent urination, especially at night; dizziness or poor concentration; and general discomfort caused by a buildup of fluids in the body.

How is it diagnosed?
To diagnose heart failure, your health care provider will ask you for a complete detailed medical history and give you a physical examination. On completion of the history and physical, certain tests may be ordered.

Tests could include an exercise stress test, blood analysis, urinalysis, chest x-ray, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, CT scan, nuclear medicine test, and Holter monitoring.

How is heart failure treated?
Self-care and lifestyle changes are among the first treatments for heart failure. Because they are the cornerstone of treatment, we have used nationally recognized guidelines to develop the AWSEM treatment plan. The plan covers five key areas:

  • Activity. One of the most important ways people with heart failure can maintain a sense of well-being is to keep active. Activity—including exercise, work, and sex—is healthy and safe for most people. The key to becoming more active is to start slowly.
  • Weight monitoring. Sudden weight gain can be an early sign of fluid buildup. Weigh yourself daily. Record, compare and keep track of your weight.
  • Symptoms. When you recognize and monitor your symptoms, you can notify your health care providers of any changes, and they can adjust your treatment plan as necessary.
  • Eating healthy. As you limit salt, fluids and alcohol in your diet, you can add healthful foods for balance.
  • Medication. Your health care provider uses medications to balance your heart’s workload and help you feel better. Some medications may prevent your condition from getting worse.

The AWSEM acronym helps us help you to manage your disease and become an active partner with us in your treatment.

Worsening symptoms may require that you enter the hospital for therapies that can be performed only in that setting. In the rare case that you cannot be treated at Oregon Heart & Vascular Institute, you will be referred for more advanced treatment.

How can I prevent heart failure?
Living a healthy lifestyle is the best way to prevent heart failure. A healthy lifestyle includes exercising regularly; eating a heart-healthy diet low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt; losing weight if you are overweight, and quitting smoking.

Also important is carefully following your doctor’s recommendations for treating conditions that may cause heart failure, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart problems.

Other Programs Offered

The Oregon Heart & Vascular Institute also offers programs on tobacco cessation, weight management, and maintaining proper diet and nutrition. For a complete listing of classes, times and locations, visit our classes page or call 541-222-7216.