By Bethany Chandler, Pharmacy Resident, BHMC-Little Rock
If you were to hear the words, “You have heart failure,” how would you feel? What would your initial thought process be? As a health-care professional, I want you to know there are ways to have a long, good quality life if you take responsibility for your health. After reading this article I want you to have awareness as to what heart failure means for you or a loved one, what medications are commonly prescribed, and how you manage this diagnosis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. There are about 5.1 million people in the U.S. with heart failure, and one in every nine deaths include heart failure as a contributing cause.
Those numbers are frightening and very overwhelming. That is why education on heart failure is so important. So let’s get started.
Heart failure is when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the demands of the body. When the body is not receiving enough blood, a series of symptoms may occur. Symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent coughing or wheezing, buildup of excess fluid, fatigue, nausea or lack of appetite, impaired thinking, and increased heart rate.
However, there is good news! Medications and lifestyle modifications are available to relieve symptoms, reduce hospital admissions, and slow progression of heart failure.
Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), beta-blockers, and diuretics form the basis of the pharmacological management of heart failure (first-line therapy).
ACE inhibitors and ARBs allow blood to flow more easily and lighten the heart’s workload. Beta blockers lower blood pressure and make the heart beat more slowly and with much less force. Diuretics, also known as “water pills,” cause the body to rid itself of excess fluids and sodium through urination. This can help you breathe easier and reduce or prevent swelling in the legs and abdomen.
When on these medications, you want to monitor blood pressure, heart rate, and make sure your doctor is monitoring your kidney function and electrolytes.
Lifestyle modifications are also key to help alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life. One of the most important things you can do is weigh yourself each day. If you gain 3 to 5 pounds in one day or 5 or more pounds in one week, you need to contact your doctor, who may advise you to increase your diuretic dose.
If you currently smoke, it is essential for your heart that you quit. With each puff, your heart rate and blood pressure are temporarily raised. By quitting, you are more likely to have heart failure symptoms improve.
Maintaining a healthy diet is a huge part of keeping symptoms in check. The key factors in your diet are choosing foods low in trans-fat and sodium, so read labels carefully. Keep alcohol limited to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. Limiting caffeine consumption will also help keep blood pressure under control. The recommended amount of caffeine is no more than two cups of coffee daily.
Receiving the influenza and pneumonia vaccines is of great importance. Pneumonia is even more dangerous for people who have heart failure because pneumonia is a lung infection that keeps your body from using oxygen as efficiently as it should. Your heart would have to work harder to pump blood through the body and the extra stress this puts on the heart should be avoided.
There are many ways you or a loved one can manage heart failure and maintain better quality of life. By taking medications as prescribed, weighing yourself daily, and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine, you will reduce symptoms and your risk for hospitalization. Be sure to keep regular doctor appointments and receive appropriate vaccinations to keep your heart healthy.