How You And Your Doctor Can Reduce Your Risk of Heart Failure

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Heart failure — when the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs — affects more than six million Americans. It may happen if your heart can’t fill up with enough blood. It can also happen if your heart becomes too weak to pump correctly. While heart failure doesn’t mean your heart has stopped pumping, it is a serious condition that requires ongoing treatment and care.

The good news is there are steps you can take to reduce your risk for developing heart failure in the future.

“There are some risk factors for heart failure that you cannot control, such as your age, sex and genetics. However, there are lifestyle changes you can make now to reduce your risk for developing a medical condition that can lead to heart failure later,” says Vincent Simonetti, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon at Henry Ford Health. “Even small changes in your daily habits can have a big impact on your heart and overall health.”

Who Is At Risk For Developing Heart Failure?

There are many factors that increase risk for heart failure. As we age, our risk increases: Men over age 45 years and women over 55 years are at greater risk. Men are also more likely to develop heart failure than women.

Heart failure often develops because of another medical condition that places strain on the heart. Individuals affected by these conditions are at increased risk:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • A history of heart disease, such as past heart attacks, coronary artery disease and heart valve disease

Coronary artery disease involves buildup of plaque, a substance made up of cholesterol and other materials. Over time, these blockages can slow the flow of blood to the heart. If untreated, they can cause a weakened heart muscle (ischemic cardiomyopathy) and lead to heart failure. Diet modification, medication and surgery can help prevent heart failure by preventing new coronary artery blockages from forming.

Untreated heart valve disease can also lead to heart failure. Valve diseases occur when one or more of the four heart valves fails to function properly. Valves can become narrowed (stenosis) or fail to close (regurgitation).

“If you already have heart disease, regular follow-up care with your cardiologist is essential to prevent heart failure,” says Dr. Simonetti. “With proper treatment, many heart conditions can be managed to reduce heart damage.”

How Your Doctor Can Help Manage Your Risk For Heart Failure

Take the first step in managing your heart health by seeing your primary care doctor. During your visit, be sure to:

  • Discuss changes in your health: Sometimes people ignore symptoms that may signal heart failure. Tell your doctor if you’re experiencing shortness of breath, fatigue or swelling. Pain in your chest, arm or neck could also be signs of other types of heart disease.
  • Share your family medical history: Tell your doctor about relatives (parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, siblings or children) with a history of heart failure or heart disease. This information can help identify preventive screening tests you may need to monitor your heart health.
  • Learn your numbers: Knowledge is power. That expression is especially true when it comes to your heart health. It’s important to maintain good blood pressure, blood sugar (glucose) and cholesterol levels. Reduce your risk for obesity by maintaining a healthy weight. Talk with your doctor about ways to keep your numbers in the optimal range.
  • Review your medications: Tell your doctor about all your medications. Set up a medication schedule to help manage conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure (hypertension). It’s important to have these conditions under control to reduce your risk of heart failure and heart disease.
  • Schedule regular follow-up visits: Through regular visits, your doctor can monitor your heart function and overall health. Your doctor can also provide support and resources to help you adopt more healthy habits that further reduce your heart disease risk.

Lifestyle Changes To Reduce Your Risk For Heart Failure

Dr. Simonetti recommends these lifestyle changes to reduce your risk for heart failure and heart disease:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet: Worried that a heart-healthy diet will be boring and tasteless? There are many ways to reimagine your favorite recipes with healthy swaps. Try adding more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains to your meals. Avoid foods that contain excessive amounts of sodium, saturated fat and sugar.
  • Get moving with exercise: You don’t need to join a gym to get into good physical shape. Build exercise into your daily routine by taking walks, biking or hiking. Adding snack-size segments of exercise throughout your day adds up, too.
  • Put sleep on your priority list: When reviewing your daily habits to improve your health, don’t forget to include getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep can improve your physical and mental health. Adopt healthy sleep habits so you get the restorative rest you need.
  • Seek help to stop smoking: Quitting smoking can significantly reduce your risk for all types of heart disease, including heart failure. Talk with your doctor to identify the best options for smoking cessation programs and support.
  • Take time to relax and recharge: Ongoing stress can increase your risk for heart disease. Find ways to reduce stress and recharge. Yoga, meditation and exercise can reduce anxiety and help you manage daily challenges.

Start adopting new healthy habits gradually. Celebrate your success and build in new routines over time.

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To find a cardiologist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Vincent Simonetti is a cardiothoracic surgeon who sees patients at Henry Ford Jackson Hospital.

Categories: FeelWell