From 2009 to 2012, approximately 5.7 million Americans were living with congestive heart failure, also known simply as heart failure. That number grew to about 6.5 million by 2014, according to the American Heart Association. However, the number of people diagnosed with heart failure is steadily increasing and projected to be more than 8 million people by 2030 — an increase of 46 percent. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with heart failure, you may be wondering what to expect.
The Signs and Symptoms
Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is weakened and unable to pump enough blood and oxygen to support the body's other organs. A single symptom of heart failure may not warrant much concern on its own. Similarly, because the symptoms of heart failure can be similar to those of other conditions, it can be difficult to recognize them at first. However, if you have several of these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor and ask for a heart evaluation.
- Confusion: This includes memory loss and being disoriented. This may be noticeable to friends and loved ones first.
- Edema: This excess fluid buildup may present as swelling in the abdomen, ankles, feet, or legs. It may also present as weight gain.
- Fatigue or weakness: Because the heart can't pump enough blood, the body redirects blood from less-vital organs to the brain and heart. This can make it difficult to perform daily activities.
- Increased heart rate: Heart palpitations are caused by the heart trying to make up for the loss in pumping capacity by beating faster.
- Nausea and/or loss of appetite: Blood is diverted from the digestive system and makes it difficult to digest food.
- Persistent coughing or wheezing: Mucus may have a white or pink tinge from fluid buildup in the lungs.
- Shortness of breath: People with heart failure may experience breathlessness at rest or while sleeping or lying down.
Know Your Risk Factors
Certain populations have a higher risk for heart failure than others. Adults who are 65 or older have a higher risk than younger people. However, children and adolescents can have heart failure as well, particularly those who have a congenital heart defect. Men have a slightly higher risk for heart failure than women, and African-Americans have a higher risk than other races or ethnicities.
People who are overweight or obese also have a high risk for heart failure, as do people who have previously had a heart attack. Those suffering from coronary artery disease, in which narrowed arteries limit the heart's supply of oxygen-rich blood, also have a high risk. Diabetes and some diabetes medications can increase the risk for congestive heart failure.
Other risk factors include high blood pressure, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption.
Helpful Tips for Prevention
If you're concerned about your risk for congestive heart failure, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk. One is to quit smoking or reduce exposure to second-hand smoke. You can also limit your alcohol consumption. Keep your blood pressure under control by exercising regularly, losing weight if necessary, and eating a healthy diet. Managing your diabetes can also help reduce your risk for heart failure, and limiting and managing stress can help as well.
It is possible to live a healthy life with heart failure as long as you know the symptoms and your risk, and take steps to reduce them.