When it comes to advanced heart disease, failure is not  an option

Jennifer Cook, MD

Heart failure is a huge health problem in the United States; about five million people are heart failure patients and 250,000 die from it each year.

Contrary to what its name suggests, heart failure does not mean that the heart suddenly stops working. Instead, heart failure occurs as a result of weakened heart muscle. This can be caused by a heart attack, high blood pressure, abnormalities in a heart valve or inherited conditions that weaken the heart muscle.

There can be treatments to prevent the development of heart failure, but unfortunately often the disease is only recognized once symptoms of congestion occur. But you can improve your odds of living a long, good quality of life if you are empowered with important information regarding heart failure.

First, know your risks for heart failure. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, a prior heart attack, history of heart murmurs, an enlarged heart or a family history of an enlarged heart.

Second, know the symptoms for heart failure: shortness of breath, especially when lying down, weight gain and ankle swelling.

Although heart failure is a chronic disease (it will never go away no matter how good you feel), treatment can provide good quality of life for many years. Follow this checklist:

Take medications ordered by your doctor.

Maintain doctor follow-up appointments.

Monitor daily weights and report weight gains (three to five pounds in a week).

Monitor symptoms and report them to your doctor.

Follow a proper diet (low salt, low fat) and amount of fluids.

Maintain daily exercise.

Do not use tobacco.

A number of procedures can help when the basics aren’t enough. These include implantable defibrillators to protect your heart from life-threatening arrhythmias, pacemakers to coordinate your right and left ventricles, bypass surgery, heart valve surgery, artificial heart or a heart transplant.

Care from a specialized heart failure physician is a good idea if you:

were admitted to the hospital for congestion within the last year

are on medications and still not as active as you would like to be

have suffered from a shock from your defibrillator

have kidney problems related to your heart failure

For more information about heart failure and treatment, visit the UA Sarver Heart Center Heart Health pages at heart.arizona.edu.

Dr. Cook is a board certified cardiologist at the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center. She provides specialized care in heart failure and advanced surgical therapies for advanced disease. She directs the Advanced Heart Failure, Mechanical Circulatory Support and Cardiac Transplantation Program. A recent transplant from the Medical University of South Carolina, she has spent considerable time this winter in the SaddleBrooke Ranch design center assisting her parents Jim and Sue Cook with building their dream retirement home. They will relocate from Cape Girardeau, Missouri in July to be closer to Dr. Cook and her two school aged sons.