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Avoiding Heart Failure – Keep Your Heart Working Properly

When one hears the word failure, the mind generally conjures a picture of complete and absolute breakdown. When a physician shares the words “heart failure” with you, this does not mean that your heart has stopped or is about to stop working, but it does mean that your heart is not working properly and it’s time to heed its warnings.

With heart failure your heart muscle is not able to pump blood as well as it should. It can affect one or both sides of the heart. Heart failure may have a gradual onset or start suddenly. Your heart may be sending you red flags: shortness of breath, fatigue and weakness, swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet, rapid or irregular heartbeat, fluid retention, and others.

One way to prevent heart failure is to be proactive and work with your primary care physician to control conditions that may lead to heart failure, such as coronary artery disease (narrowing of arteries in your heart), high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

Heart failure often develops when the conditions mentioned above have had the opportunity to damage or weaken the heart muscle causing the heart chamber to stretch and not pump blood efficiently. Heart failure can also occur if the heart becomes too stiff, not allowing the heart to fill properly between beats.

The outlook for someone who is experiencing heart failure depends on the cause and severity of the heart failure as well as other medical problems and age. With proper treatment by heart specialists, heart function and symptoms can improve. Complications of heart failure can be life-threatening if not treated in a timely manner. Those complications can include kidney damage, respiratory problems, heart rhythm problems, and liver damage.

So what do you need to know? Everyone should be in tune with their own heart. Do what you can to create a lifestyle that is heart friendly—don’t smoke, stay physically active, eat heart healthy foods in the right portions, maintain a healthy weight, and do your best to reduce and manage stress. Stay on top of those conditions that may lead to heart failure and have a good, consistent relationship with your primary care physician.

And by all means, seek emergency treatment as soon as possible if you start having symptoms that may be related to your heart. Don’t ignore the warning signs in the hopes that they may go away, instead use caution with the strongest muscle in your body and pay attention to what it might be telling you. Let the experts work with you if you start to have symptoms of heart failure. The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the better your outlook will be.

– John Pfeifer, MD, Interventional Cardiologist at the Heart and Vascular Center of Evangelical, specializes in diseases and treatment of the heart. He is certified by the National Board of Echocardiography and the American Board of Internal Medicine (Cardiovascular Disease). For more information on the Heart and Vascular Center of Evangelical, visit or call 570-524-5056.

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