Heart failure: What does it mean?
2/23/2023 by Angela Luckhardt, APRN, C.N.P.
Heart failure is a chronic condition causing the heart to not be able to pump enough blood to meet the body's blood and oxygen needs. Through this process, the body and heart try to offset the heart's inability to meet those needs by increasing the heart's size, increasing the heart's muscle amount and beating faster — trying to increase the amount of blood the heart is pumping out. The body also tries to offset the reduction by narrowing the blood vessels to keep blood pressure up in normal range, pumping blood to crucial organs, including the heart and brain, and diverting it from less important organs, such as the kidneys, which causes damage to the kidneys over time.
Sign and symptoms of heart failure
- Shortness of breath with activity or when lying flat
- Increased and unusual fatigue
- Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet
- Rapid weight gain due to fluid in the legs, ankles and feet
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased ability to exercise due to fatigue and shortness of breath
- Feelings of rapid or irregular heartbeats
- Chest pain, if the heart failure is due to a heart attack
How to reduce your risk
- Be active with regular exercise. It is recommended that you do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise daily.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Heart-healthy foods include lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and good fats — like avocados, olive oil and fish. Reduce the amount of saturated and trans fats, sodium and sugar.
- Stop smoking, vaping or using recreational drugs.
- Have regular checkups with your clinician to catch and treat medical conditions in the early stages.
- If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, thyroid, lung or kidney disease, treating them and keeping them under control is critical. Work closely with your health care team and follow their recommendations.
Angela Luckhardt, APRN, C.N.P., is a nurse practitioner in Community and Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Palliative Care. Her interest in heart failure came from working 11 years as an end-stage heart failure clinician. Working with end-stage patients raised her interest in preventive medicine in hopes of helping individuals live a healthier, happier, more active lifestyle.