Facts and Stats Seniors Need to Know About Heart Failure

If you are over the age of 65, you need to know the basics about heart failure. The stark reality is that heart failure is the number one reason for hospitalizations in the United States among people 65 years and older. There are approximately 6 million people in the country who have heart failure at this time. There are about 680,000 new diagnoses of heart failure among senior Americans each and every year. In this article, we provide you with the information you need to know about heart failure as a person who has reached his or her Golden Years:

  • Overview of heart failure
  • Types of heart failure
  • Causes of acute heart failure
  • Causes of chronic heart failure
  • Common symptoms of heart failure
  • Heart failure risk factors
  • Other complications associated with heart failure
  • Lifestyle changes to lower heart failure risk

Overview of Heart Failure

In basic terms, heart failure occurs when the heart muscle doesn’t pump blood as well as it should, according to the Mayo Clinic. When this occurs, blood often backs up. This can result in such physical effects that include fluid can build up in a person’s lungs. It can also involve blood and fluid congestion in other parts of the body. This type of heart failure is called congestive heart failure.

Certain heart conditions, such as narrowed arteries in the heart (coronary artery disease) or high blood pressure (hypertension), gradually leave the heart too weak or stiff to fill up and then pump blood properly throughout a person’s body.

Types of Heart Failure

There are different ways to categorize heart failure. With that said, the Mayo Clinic explains four different types of heart failure:

  • Left-sided heart failure: When left-sided heart failure occurs, fluid may build up in a person’s lungs, resulting in persistent shortness of breath.
  • Right-sided heart failure: A person with right-sided heart failure may experience a backup of fluid in the abdomen, legs, and feet. This can result in swelling.
  • Systolic heart failure: This occurs when an individual’s left ventricle cannot contract vigorously enough, which is indicative of a heart-pumping problem
  • Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction: A person’s left ventricle cannot relax or fill fully. This is indicative of a filling problem.

Causes of Acute Heart Failure

There are instances in which a person sustains what is medically known as acute heart failure. This type of heart failure comes on suddenly and can occur without any previous discernable symptoms. Examples of causes of acute heart failure include:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Any illness that affects the whole body
  • Blood clots in the lungs
  • Severe infections
  • Use of certain medications
  • Viruses that attack the heart muscle

Causes of Chronic Heart Failure

Unlike acute heart failure, chronic heart failure is a condition that develops over time. The most commonplace causes of chronic heart failure are:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Faulty heart valves
  • Damage to the heart muscle
  • Inflammation of the heart muscle or myocarditis
  • Congenital heart defect or heart problem a person had at birth
  • Abnormal heart rhythms or arrhythmias
  • Diabetes
  • HIV
  • Overactive thyroid
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Iron buildup
  • Protein buildup

Common Symptoms of Heart Failure

  • There exists a long list of different signs and symptoms of heart failure. The most frequently occurring symptoms associated with heart failure are:
  • Shortness of breath with activity or when lying down
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged mucus
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Very rapid weight gain from fluid buildup
  • Nausea and lack of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness
  • Chest pain (if a heart attack causes heart failure)

Heart Failure Risk Factors

A myriad of risk factors for heart failure exists. The most commonplace of these risk factors include:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • Heart valve disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Congenital heart disease or heart defects
  • Diabetes
  • Some diabetes medications
  • Certain other medications
  • Alcohol use
  • Sleep apnea
  • Smoking or using tobacco
  • Obesity
  • Viruses

Other Complications Associated With Heart Failure

  • Complications associated with heart failure can impact other parts of a person’s body, according to the Mayo Clinic. Examples of such complications include:
  • Kidney damage or failure: Heart failure can reduce the blood flow to a person’s kidneys. This reduction in blood flow can cause kidney failure if left untreated. Kidney damage from heart failure might require dialysis for treatment.
  • Liver damage: Heart failure can cause fluid buildup that puts too much pressure on an individual’s liver. This fluid backup can lead to scarring. When this scarring occurs, it becomes more difficult for a person’s liver to function properly.

Lifestyle Changes to Lower Heart Failure Risk

The most fundamental step to prevent heart failure is to reduce risk factors. A person can control or even eliminate many of the risk factors associated with heart disease. This is accomplished by making certain healthy lifestyle choices. It may also include taking medications prescribed by a doctor.

Examples of lifestyle changes to help prevent heart failure include:

  • Not smoking
  • Controlling certain conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Staying physically active
  • Eating healthy foods
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing and managing stress

When to Seek Immediate Medical Attention

There are instances in which an individual must seek immediate medical attention. Signs that a person with heart failure needs to go to the emergency room include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fainting or severe weakness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat associated with shortness of breath, chest pain, or fainting
  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up white or pink, foamy mucus

In conclusion, it is important to underscore the fact that by making certain lifestyle changes, risk factors associated with potential heart failure can be lowered in many instances. In addition, if you do have a diagnosis of heart failure, you can enhance your overall wellness by making the lifestyle changes presented in this article.