Saint Luke's News: Heart Failure Awareness: Treatment Options and Warning Signs

February 12, 2019
Heart and stethoscope


February 10-16 is Heart Failure Awareness Week.

More than 6 million Americans have heart failure, and one in five adults age 40 and older will develop the condition in their lifetime, according to the American Heart Association.

The term heart failure encompasses many different issues that can weaken the heart muscle. One of the most common types is dilated cardiomyopathy, or an enlarged and poorly functioning heart. This happens when the heart muscle is not able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs and there is higher pressure in the heart. This typically leads to shortness of breath and fluid retention.

However, there are several things people with heart failure can do to improve their health.

“Just hearing the words heart failure and the diagnosis of heart failure are really discouraging for a lot of people,” said Bethany Austin, M.D., Co-Medical Director of the Advanced Heart Failure Program at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute. “Although it’s a condition that requires a lot of treatment, this is a chronic, manageable condition for many people. It’s not a death sentence.”

There have been many advances in heart failure treatment over the past 20 years, giving doctors more effective options. Today, about a third of people diagnosed with a weakened heart can improve dramatically and strengthen their heart with medicine, a healthy diet, and exercise.

People with cardiomyopathy should expect a lot of changes in their medicines as their doctor works to figure out the best regimen specific to them.

“One of our major focuses early in treatment is trying to determine the ideal doses of medication, and that takes time to let your body adjust,” Dr. Austin said. “We want to help them understand that we attempt to give them increasing doses or additional medications because we want to give their heart every chance of improving.”

Cardiac rehab is also prescribed often to help people regain strength and get much needed exercise.

Equally as important as the medicine is a person’s understanding of what they can do themselves. This includes keeping track of how much sodium is in their food and watching for big changes in weight that may signify fluid retention. It also means knowing what symptoms to look for that may indicate their condition is worsening, such as increasing fatigue or shortness of breath.

The number of people living with heart failure is expected to increase nearly 50 percent over the next 15 years, according to the American Heart Association.

It is important for people without heart failure to take action to reduce their risk.

“High blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for the development of heart failure,” Dr. Austin said. “One of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk is to make sure you check for high blood pressure and make sure it is being treated or managed.”

Warning signs of heart failure include swelling in the legs or abdomen, shortness of breath, and decreased energy and stamina.

On Feb. 13, Saint Luke’s will be holding a screening and heart failure awareness event at Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City. Nurses and educators will provide free screening for high blood pressure and answer any questions about the disease and treatment options. Anyone is welcome to attend the event by the Jo ‘n’ Go Coffee Shop from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Certified in Advanced Heart Failure by The Joint Commission since 2014, the Saint Luke’s Heart Failure team, which features eight board certified heart failure cardiologists, cares for the most advanced and complex heart failure cases.

Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute provided expert care to nearly 1,000 patients hospitalized with heart failure in 2018, and patients hospitalized at Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City are readmitted less than the national average. Mortality rate is also below national average.

Learn more about Saint Luke’s Heart Failure Program or call 816-931-1883 to schedule an appointment with Saint Luke’s Cardiovascular Consultants.

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