*The translation of this article in French and Portuguese has been made through machine translation and has not been edited yet. we apologise for any inaccuracies.
Heart failure affects more than 64 million people worldwide and accounts for roughly 8.5% of heart disease deaths in the US. Every five minutes, someone is admitted to the hospital due to a heart attack in the UK.
Heart failure is usually incurable, but there are preventative measures that can reduce individual risk. Staying aware and informed about what heart failure is, how to prevent it, and the importance of adopting healthier lifestyle choices could be lifesaving. Check out the answers to these five key questions to help you understand heart failure better:
What Is Heart Failure?
Heart failure is a long-term condition where the heart is less able to pump blood around the body efficiently. It happens because the heart has become too weak or stiff and tends to get worse over time. It is more common in older people and symptoms usually include breathlessness, feeling tired or light-headed, and swollen ankles and legs.
What Are Some Causes of Heart Failure?
Heart failure is usually the result of another medical condition that damages the heart, including:
- Coronary heart disease: where the arteries that transport blood to the heart become blocked with fatty substances which can then lead to a heart attack.
- Congenital heart disease: birth defects that affect the way the heart functions.
- High blood pressure can put extra strain on the heart, which over time can lead to heart failure.
- Other conditions that affect the heart muscle, such as cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation, and damage or problems to the heart valves.
Is It Possible to Recover From Heart Failure?
As heart failure is a long-term condition, it tends to be progressive. In most cases it is incurable but it is possible to control symptoms.
Treat the underlying condition
As there are many underlying causes for heart failure, the first point of action is treating the underlying condition.
Heart therapy, also known as cardiac rehabilitation, is a medically supervised programme designed to help slow disease progression, relieve symptoms, and help people live longer. It usually consists of:
- Exercise to help with blood circulation.
- Education around heart health to encourage different lifestyle choices.
- Counselling to reduce stress, as psychological stress is a key factor in heart health.
Recommended lifestyle changes to reduce risks and improve heart health include:
- Eating a diet low in sodium and fat
- Avoiding alcohol and smoking
- Limiting caffeine intake
- Exercising regularly
- Reducing stress
Medication or surgery
Surgical treatment may be required in extreme cases. In more severe cases, a heart transplant may be necessary. However, this treatment is only offered to a small number of candidates due to the shortage of donors.
Other available treatments include heart reconstruction or the insertion of a pacemaker. There are also medications that can help strengthen the heart’s pumping action, dilate blood vessels, and reduce water and sodium in the body to lessen the heart’s work.
How Do Race and Ethnicity Play a Role in Heart Failure?
Some studies suggest that people of African descent may be more susceptible due to genetics. However, lifestyle and other factors such as socio-economic status, access to healthcare, stress level, and healthcare history can all play a role.
- African men have a 70% higher risk of heart attack compared to Caucasian men.
- African women have a 50% higher risk of heart attack compared to Caucasian women.
- African adults are more than twice as likely as Caucasian adults to be hospitalised with heart failure.
- African Americans have higher rates of blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity, which are the four major risk factors for heart disease.
How Can You Prevent Heart Failure or Other Underlying Heart Conditions?
- Get your blood pressure checked every year: untreated high blood pressure and hypertension increase the risk of heart disease and strokes.
- Understand the risk factors: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle are all contributory.
- Know your family history.
- Adopt healthy habits: get enough sleep, exercise, and maintain a healthy diet.
- Be aware of the warning signs: symptoms of heart failure can include shortness of breath and swelling of the legs. Coronary artery disease signs could include chest pain and discomfort in the neck or jaw.
Is There Enough Awareness Around Heart Failure?
There are many annual global campaigns designed to help spread awareness around the risk factors of heart conditions, and to educate patients on prevention:
- World Heart Day is celebrated on 29th September every year.
- The USA’s Heart Failure Awareness Week took place on the week of 12th February this year.
- Both UK and US have declared February as their National Heart Month
*Studies are subject to availability
*This study is subject to availability
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