National Heart Failure Awareness Week Approaches

In recognition of National Heart Failure Awareness Week, Feb. 8-14, the American Association of Heart Failure Nurses (AAHFN) is encouraging everyone to learn the symptoms of heart failure and offering tips on maintaining a healthy heart.

Heart failure is a progressive condition in which the heart muscle weakens or stiffens and gradually loses its ability to pump enough blood to supply the body's needs. Because of this, you may feel tired or weak. This problem can also cause fluid buildup in your organs and tissues, leading to swelling in your legs and feet, or congestion in your lungs, leading to increased breathing difficulties. Heart failure is common but under recognized. According to AAHFN, heart failure affects more than five million people in the United States, and it's the most common cause of hospitalization in people older than 65 years of age.

Many people with heart failure are not aware they have it. The following symptoms could signal heart failure (If you have any of these for more than a week, call your health care provider to schedule a check-up):

  • Shortness of breath - You may feel like you don't get enough air when you breathe. You may "huff and puff" even when you’re not doing anything tiring. If fluid has built up in your lungs, it makes it harder to breathe. This can get worse at night because when you lie down even more fluid can build up and around your lungs.
  • Frequent coughing - You may experience a persistent cough. The coughing can get worse at night.
  • Fast heart rate or heavy heart beat - Your heart may feel like it is racing or pounding.
  • Tiredness and weakness - If you feel tired and weak, you cannot work and do the normal things you do every day. Even walking up stairs or carrying shopping bags is hard.
  • Swollen ankles, legs, and/or belly - These are all places where fluid may build up. This can lead to swelling, making them seem "puffy" and larger than normal. Your shoes and/or rings may feel tight. Your clothes may also feel tight around your waist. This swelling is often worse at the end of the day.
  • Loss of appetite and/or nausea - You may not want to eat even when you should be hungry. You also may feel sick to your stomach.
  • Weight gain - When extra fluid builds up, it shows up on the scale as extra weight. A sudden weight gain of three to five pounds in a few days, especially when accompanied by shortness of breath, is a signal to seek assistance.

Although there is no cure for heart failure, it can be treated and managed. Health care providers will work with patients to create a plan to help manage their heart failure. The key parts of this plan are diet, exercise, lifestyle changes, and medication.

For more information, go to www.aahfn.org/patients_resources to download a heart failure handbook and symptom tracker.

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