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Reduce your risk of heart failure: wise lifestyle choices can help keep your heart strong and pumping optimally.

When a heart muscle contracts weakly or is unable to relax properly, its ability to pump blood is impaired. This is called heart failure.

Surprisingly, it is often preventable.

"The risk factors that predispose someone to developing heart failure are the same that lead to heart attacks: smoking, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle," says Weill Cornell heart failure specialist Irina Sobol, MD.

Heart failure is not a disease itself, but a condition resulting from injury to the heart muscle. It has multiple causes, including hypertension, diabetes, a deformed valve, and cardiomyopathy, a disease that directly affects the heart muscle. Approximately half of patients develop heart failure when a heart attack leaves part of their heart muscle unable to move.

Heart failure is a serious condition that can result in frequent hospitalizations and declining quality of life, and it can lead to early death. Because heart failure is progressive and difficult to treat, it's in your best interest to do everything you can to protect your heart and prevent the condition in the first place.

Look to lifestyle for prevention

The usual culprits related to so many other health conditions--diet, exercise, weight, and smoking--also are key in protecting yourself against heart failure.

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on Oct. 28, 2014, found that making heart-healthy lifestyle choices can have a big impact on lowering a woman's heart-failure risk.

In the study, women with any one of four components of a healthy lifestyle--a healthy diet, staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking--had half the risk of heart failure of women with none of the components. Women with all four components cut their risk by 77 percent, compared to women who had none.

Also, taking steps to manage the underlying risk factors for the disease often can prevent heart failure. This means keeping blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol within normal limits--and healthy lifestyle choices also help with all of these factors.

Watch for symptoms

Heart failure can occur suddenly, but, in most people, it develops over time. As the overall strength of the heart declines, fatigue, swelling of the feet and ankles, and shortness of breath--especially while walking or performing other activities--are common. Other symptoms include abdominal pain and nausea.

If you have risk factors for heart failure or have suffered a heart attack, your doctor should be monitoring you closely. Nevertheless, it's important to report any of the aforementioned symptoms to your doctor.

"These symptoms are not specific to heart failure alone and can have other explanations. But, if they develop, their underlying cause needs to be determined," says Dr. Sobol.

An evaluation for heart failure will require a careful physical examination. Blood and urine tests and other noninvasive tests, such as a stress test, echocardiogram, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test, or coronary computed tomography (CT) angiogram, also may be ordered. Symptoms should never be ignored: Heart failure often can be successfully managed when it's caught early enough, but an accurate diagnosis is necessary to develop an effective treatment plan.

If you are diagnosed...

First, you will be encouraged to drop unhealthy habits and adopt new practices to slow the your heart's deterioration and improve your quality of life. At some point, you will require medications to relieve symptoms and help your heart pump more effectively. These medications work best when combined with lifestyle modifications.

"Your heart function may never return to normal, but, with proper treatment, you are more likely to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life," says Dr. Sobol.


* Of the 5.1 million adults in the U.S. with heart failure, 2 million are women.

* 670,000 new cases of heart failure are diagnosed every year.

* One-tenth of adults over age 65 develop heart failure.

* More people are hospitalized for heart failure every year than for all forms of cancer.


If you are diagnosed with heart failure, slow its progression by doing the following:

* Follow a heart-healthy diet

* Exercise regularly

* Lose those extra pounds

* Stop smoking

* Get plenty of sleep

* Avoid alcohol

* Limit fluids

* Avoid strenuous lifting or activity

* Get flu and pneumonia shots yearly, and avoid people with colds--these diseases can exacerbate heart failure
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Title Annotation:PREVENTION
Publication:Women's Health Advisor
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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