Heart failure is a condition in which the damaged or weakened heart muscle is unable to effectively pump enough blood to the body. Heart failure may worsen over time, and while there is no cure for heart failure, it is possible for many people with the condition to live a healthier life—as long as the necessary steps are taken to help manage it.
Treatment includes lifestyle changes, prescription medication use and regular monitoring. You and your doctor can treat and manage heart failure by keeping the following treatment goals in mind:
- Treat the underlying cause as necessary (e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat)
- Slow down the progression of the condition
- Reduce symptoms
Heart failure occurs as a result of having a weakened or damaged heart. Causes of heart failure include coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. So it’s important to control your risk for these conditions.
Here are a few helpful tips:
- Lose weight, if you are overweight or obese
- Stay physically active. Be sure to consult your doctor before starting any new exercise routines
- Eat a healthy diet that consists of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meats. Stay away from foods that are high in salt and saturated fat. Too much salt can cause build-up of extra fluid. Foods high in saturated and trans fat can increase cholesterol
- Monitor your fluid intake. Drinking too much fluid can worsen heart failure
- Check your weight daily. Excess fluids can cause weight gain
- Quit smoking, if you smoke
If you are diagnosed with chronic heart failure, your doctor may prescribe medicines to help your heart do its job better or help your body get rid of extra fluid build-up.
Heart failure medicines work in different ways—they can expand blood vessels, lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, reduce the pressure on the heart, modify heart rhythm, and/or remove excess fluid from the body. Some commonly used medications include:
- ACE inhibitors: widen blood vessels and lower blood pressure to decrease the heart’s workload
- Angiotensin receptor blockers: these work similarly to ACE inhibitors.
- Beta blockers: slow heart rate and lower blood pressure to decrease the heart’s workload
- Diuretics (water pills): reduce fluid build-up in the body by causing more frequent urination
- Aldosterone antagonists: work similarly to diuretics and work to reduce the workload on the heart
- Digoxin: increases the strength of the heart muscle so that it pumps with more force, and slows the heartbeat
Some people may need surgery (e.g., repairing or replacing a damaged heart valve with an artificial valve, allowing blood flow to bypass a severely blocked artery [coronary bypass surgery], putting in a pacemaker-like device to help the heart pump more efficiently, or heart transplant).
If you or someone you love has heart failure, it is important to understand the medical severity of the disease and to follow your doctor’s treatment plan. Any lifestyle modification, treatment or medicine use should be administered as prescribed. Be sure to see your doctor regularly to monitor symptoms. If and when you feel a change in your symptoms, or if you don’t feel well, speak to your doctor right away. Discuss with your doctor the warning signs that may alert you to a worsening of your condition.
John Vincent, MD, PhD is a Senior Director in Clinical Affairs at Pfizer.