Living with heart failure can be terrifying. But people need to know that the condition is preventable, treatable and manageable. People living with heart failure need treatment for the rest of their lives, according to a cardiologist.
“There is effective medication to treat people with heart failure. Treatment improves heart failure symptoms and quality of life, reduces hospitalisation and helps patients to live longer, ” says Datuk Dr David Chew Soon Ping, consultant cardiologist at Cardiac Vascular Sentral Kuala Lumpur.
“Heart failure is a chronic condition whereby the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. The older you are, the more likely that you may get heart failure. However, this does not mean that heart failure does not affect younger people.”
Up to 10% of those above 65 years of age may develop heart failure. It is also the most common cause of hospitalisation among this group.
Some of the common causes of heart failure include coronary artery disease and heart attack, hypertension, heart muscle disease or valve disease.
Dr Chew points out that medications need to be continued long-term and the challenge with some heart failure patients is medication compliance - they don’t take their medication as directed by their doctors. In some cases, patients stopped their medication without consulting their doctors. This usually results in worsening of their condition and may lead to hospitalisations and death.
Besides medication, other treatment options include implantation of electrical devices, or surgery - if patients have severe coronary artery disease or valve conditions, and in extreme cases, heart transplant.
For people in risk groups (high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity), Dr Chew recommends: “Treat these conditions appropriately to prevent the development of heart disease that can later on lead to heart failure. Watch your salt and sugar consumption. You should exercise too but always discuss with your doctor before you start.”
For healthy people, Dr Chew says: “Maintain a healthy lifestyle that involves watching your diet, maintaining an ideal body weight, exercise regularly and don’t smoke.”
“If you practise healthy habits and lifestyle, the chances of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, and even heart diseases are lower. This helps to prevent heart failure too.”
If heart disease like coronary artery disease develops, Dr Chew advises: “Appropriate treatment and management of your condition can prevent the heart disease from getting worse, reduce heart attacks and prevent the heart from getting damaged and avoid heart failure.”
Some of the signs and symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath or trouble breathing, fatigue and weakness, swelling (in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen), rapid or irregular heartbeat and persistent cough or wheezing.
“Heart failure symptoms are not distinct and some of them are pretty common. That’s why it can be challenging to diagnose heart failure. For some heart failure patients, they think they are short of breath because they are not fit. But if you feel unwell, don’t dismiss it as ageing. Go get it checked, ” he says.
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