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Published on August 06, 2013

Preventing Congestive Heart Failure

If it seems as though your body doesn’t work as well as it once did, you’re not alone. And while you might brush it off as a sign of getting older, there are measures you can and should take to keep your body healthy.

Consider this: Over half a million people are diagnosed with congestive heart failure each year. But there are ways in which you can take preventative measures to eliminate or at least reduce your chances of developing heart failure. Makes you re-think getting that second Whopper now, doesn’t it?

According to Dr. Donald Haas, medical director of the Ventricular Assist Device Program at Abington Memorial Hospital, heart failure syndrome can be diagnosed for one of two reasons. “Either there’s a fluid overload in the main chamber of the heart, which is the most common, or the heart’s not circulating enough blood,” Dr. Haas said. “When organs aren’t getting enough blood flow for oxygen and nutrients, they start to shut down.”

As a result, your heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout your body, which eventually causes it to weaken over time. And when this happens, your kidneys start to retain fluid and sodium, which builds up in your body and causes further damage to your body.

So who’s at risk?

Those with a pre-existing condition where the heart is structurally abnormal, known as cardiomyopathy. “This can occur in people whose hearts are weakened and dilated, or in those whose hearts can’t relax properly,” said Dr. Haas.

As a result, those with conditions such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and coronary artery disease are also at a greater risk for developing cardiomyopathy and subsequent heart failure syndrome. Since these conditions aren’t reversible, it’s crucial they’re treated with proper medication.

“Heart failure is preventable. All you have to do is address the risk factors and take medications prescribed by your doctor,” Dr. Haas said.

Here are some quick tips to managing your risks of heart failure:

  • Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Obesity can lead to heart failure, so it’s important to get to a healthy weight and maintain it.
  • Limiting Fats and Cholesterol: Reduce the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol in your diet, since they can lead to coronary artery disease and ultimately heart failure.
  • Restricting Salt Intake: Consuming too much sodium can cause your body to retain water, which makes your heart work harder. This can lead to shortness of breath and swollen legs, ankles, and feet. You should cap your salt intake to no more than 1,500 mg a day.
  • Quitting Smoking: Smoking not only damages blood vessels, raises blood pressure and reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood, but it also eliminates you as a candidate for a heart transplant.
  • Exercising: Reduce the demands on your heart muscle by engaging in moderate aerobic activity to keep the rest of your body healthy and strong.
  • Reducing Stress: Anxiety is known to increase your heart and breathing rate, which can make your heart failure condition worse. Try practicing stress management, such as deep breathing and meditation.
  • Limiting Alcohol: Alcohol weakens your heart muscle, increases your risk of abnormal heart rhythms, and can negatively interact with your medication.

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