January 23, 2019
By Jennifer Graslie, a Physician Assistant with Sheridan Memorial Hospital Big Horn Heart Center
Heart failure is a prevalent disease affecting 3.7 million Americans. It is more prevalent than all forms of cancer combined. Heart failure occurs when fluid accumulates in the body because the heart is not able to pump efficiently. High blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and age can all contribute to causing this illness. Symptoms of heart failure can include fatigue, shortness of breath and swelling. As our population becomes older and more sedentary, we expect heart failure to become more widespread.
Prevention is the most effective measure for counteracting the risk factors that can lead to developing heart failure. There is ample medical evidence proving that a person can lower or prevent such risk factors as high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary artery disease. It requires maintaining a healthy weight and diet and modifying certain lifestyle habits. If a person already has one or more risk factors, tight control of blood pressure or blood sugar and coronary artery disease can help prevent or delay the onset of heart failure. Even modest weight loss and an increase in cardio-respiratory fitness can significantly improve heart health.
There is some good news for those patients with a diagnosis of heart failure. Many medications, including certain beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, aldosterone antagonists and Entresto, are producing wonderful results. Patients with heart failure are experiencing fewer symptoms, and some are living longer. Other patients are benefiting from special pacemakers that synchronize the heart, allowing it to beat more efficiently. These special pacemakers can further reduce patient symptoms and improve survival.
When heart failure progresses to an advanced stage or warrants hospitalization, it becomes an identifying marker for patients who will require more intensive follow up care for the rest of their life. As a cardiology office, we routinely see patients with a heart failure diagnosis. In the past year, Sheridan Memorial Hospital implemented several initiatives to improve heart failure care in its clinics and inpatient setting. Our focus is on providing up-to-date medical management for heart failure. The program involves providing in-depth patient education and having patients monitor their weight, blood pressure and sodium intake daily. Patients must also watch for and report these early warning signs: feet and ankles swelling more than usual, breathing that becomes more difficult, or a weight gain of 3 pounds in two days. These signs might indicate that fluid is building up in the body. Early intervention ensures on-going symptom management and overall wellbeing.
With heart failure becoming more widespread over the next few decades, our understanding of how to prevent and treat this disease will also continuously improve.
Published on January 23rd, 2019
January 23, 2019