It’s an unfortunate truth that your body slows down as you get older. What used to be easy like going up a flight of stairs may now feel like a daunting task. While losing some vitality with age is completely natural, fatigue and breathlessness can also be warning signs that your heart is not working properly.
What is heart failure?
Your heart’s primary function is to supply oxygen-rich blood throughout your whole body. When your heart isn’t pumping efficiently as it’s supposed to, you have heart failure.
Heart failure does not mean your heart stops working. It means it needs some support to help it work better. This condition can occur at any age, but is most common in older people and tends to gradually get worse over time.
A lot of individuals often mistake heart failure symptoms as a result of growing older. But in reality, what’s happening is that their heart is getting weaker and they don’t even realize it. Without proper care, heart failure can lead to cardiac arrest.
Know your F.A.C.E.S.
To help both doctors and patients quickly recognize the symptoms of heart failure, the Heart Failure Society of America created a simple acronym called “FACES.”
F = Fatigue. When the heart can’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood to meet the body’s energy needs, a general feeling of tiredness or fatigue sets in.
A = Activity limitation. People with heart failure are often unable to do their normal activities because they become easily tired and short of breath.
C = Congestion. Fluid buildup in the lungs can result in coughing, wheezing, and breathing difficulty.
E = Edema or ankle swelling. When the heart doesn’t have enough pumping power to force used blood back up from the lower extremities, fluid can collect in the ankles, legs, thighs, and abdomen. Excess fluid can also cause rapid weight gain.
S = Shortness of breath. Fluid in the lungs makes it more difficult for carbon dioxide in used blood to be exchanged for fresh oxygen. It may also be harder to breathe when lying down because gravity allows fluid from below the lungs to travel up the torso.
What causes heart failure?
Heart failure occurs when your heart’s muscle tissue gets damaged. This damage can stem from any of the following health complications:
- coronary heart disease – where the arteries that supply blood to the heart become clogged up with fatty substances (atherosclerosis), which may cause angina or a heart attack
- high blood pressure – this can put extra strain on the heart
- conditions affecting the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
- heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), such as atrial fibrillation
- damage or other problems with the heart valves
- congenital heart disease – birth defects that affect the normal workings of the heart
In addition, obesity, anaemia, drinking too much alcohol, an overactive thyroid or high pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension) can also lead to heart failure.
Drugs to avoid when you have heart failure…
People with heart failure are often given many prescriptions. However, several of these meds can intensify heart failure symptoms. To be safe, always make sure all of your medical providers have a complete list of all the medicines, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements you take. Particular things to watch out for include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). This class of widely used painkillers, which includes ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can worsen heart failure symptoms by causing the body to retain sodium and fluid.
- Heartburn medicines and cold remedies. These over-the-counter aids often contain high amounts of sodium, which can trigger fluid overload.
- Supplements. Many of these contain substances that react badly with several common heart medications.