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January 31, 2006 > Are You Having Symptoms of Heart Failure?

Are You Having Symptoms of Heart Failure?

Washington Hospital Cardiologists Talk about Warning Signs and Latest Treatments

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, it's a good time to think about your heart. Heart failure affects more than 5 million Americans, according to the American Heart Association. It is a chronic condition in which the heart loses its ability to efficiently pump blood.

"Heart failure is a common problem in our community," said Dr. Jeffrey Carlson, a Washington Hospital cardiologist. "Last year 44 percent of hospital discharges for people over age 65 were for heart failure."

Dr. Carlson will conduct a Health & Wellness seminar titled "Are You Having Symptoms: Heart Failure/Arrhythmia" on Tuesday, February 7 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson M.D. Auditorium at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue. Washington Hospital cardiologist Dr. Thirupathi Reddy will address arrhythmia during the presentation.

The normal heart is a strong, muscular pump a little bigger than a fist. Its primary function is to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Each day the average heart beats 100,000 times and pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood. A byproduct of this process is carbon dioxide. The blood carries this waste back to the heart and then into the lungs where it is expelled.

The heart has four chambers that contract in a highly organized sequence. The electrical impulse that signals the heart to contract in this synchronized manner is the body's natural pacemaker. Arrhythmia occurs when this sequence is disturbed, causing abnormal heart rhythms.

You may have felt your heart skip a beat or flutter. Often these cardiac arrhythmias are benign. However, arrhythmia can be life-threatening and require treatment when these abnormal heart rhythms last long enough to affect how well the heart works.

Symptoms of arrhythmia include heart palpitations, fainting, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, light-headedness, paleness and sweating. Treatment includes implanting a cardioverter-defibrillator that detects the arrhythmia and sends either an automatic electrical shock to terminate it or a burst of pacing activity to overdrive it.

"Arrhythmia can cause the heart to become inefficient," Reddy said. "It can't keep up with the body's demands."

Excess Weight Increases Risks
The risk factors for developing both arrhythmia and heart failure are similar. People at greater risk are those who are overweight, have diabetes, smoke cigarettes, abuse alcohol, and use cocaine.

"The most common cause of heart failure is hypertension or high blood pressure. Another factor is diabetes," Carlson said. "Being overweight is a big factor in hypertension and type 2 diabetes. It's all interrelated, so one of the best prevention measures is to maintain a healthy weight."

Heart failure contributes to more than 300,000 deaths in this country each year, according to the National Institutes of Health. Symptoms include shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; feeling tired; swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, and sometimes the abdomen; weight gain; frequent urination; nausea; palpitations; loss of appetite; coughing; and decreased alertness or concentration.

Heart failure can be treated with medications and lifestyle changes. The goal is to treat the underlying cause of heart failure, improve quality of life, stop the disease from progressing, and prolong life.

There are a variety of medications that can improve heart function and symptoms, and in severe cases, a mechanical heart pump or heart transplant may become necessary. People with heart failure need to eat right, including a low-salt diet, maintain a healthy weight, and exercise. Those who smoke should quit.

For more information or to register for the seminar on symptoms and treatments for heart failure and arrhythmia, please call (800) 963-7070 or visit the Washington Hospital website, click on "For Our Community" and select "Health Classes & Support Groups" from the drop-down menu.

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