Five Common Myths About Living With Heart Failure
Heart failure is a condition that most have probably heard of at some point in their life, mainly because it is a very common health issue. In fact, there are nearly 6.2 million adults in the United States who are living with heart failure.1 But most people don’t totally understand what heart failure is and who it affects. Let's dive in and look at five common myths about living with heart failure.
Common heart failure myths
Heart failure is seen only in older adults who have existing heart problems. Heart failure can be seen in anyone at any age, and can happen for many reasons. There are many different things that can make the heart muscle weak, thus impacting its ability to pump effectively. Many of the conditions can be seen in people of any age with no real underlying health issues. Circumstances that could lead to heart failure include:1
- Coronary artery disease
- Previous heart attack(s)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Problems with a heart valve
- Heart defects at birth
- Genetic disorders
- Enlarged heart
- Abnormal heart rhythm (too slow, too fast, or irregular)
- Severe lung disease like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Inflammation of the heart muscle
- Alcohol or drug use
- Virus or infection
- Sleep apnea
Heart failure occurs because your heart has stopped beating. This myth is totally false. Heart failure does absolutely not mean that your heart has failed totally. It is often assumed that heart failure is the same as a heart attack, which it is NOT.1
Heart failure occurs when the heart is no longer able to work as an effective pump. The heart is basically a GIANT muscle that works as a pump. With each heartbeat, the heart squeezes (contracts) to pump the blood to the rest of the entire body. The heart then relaxes to refill with blood so it can do it all over again and contract again.1
When the heart begins to fail, the heart muscle can become weak or stiff, making it less able to pump blood effectively and decreasing the pumping function of the heart. When the heart is weak, it no longer squeezes like it used to which lowers its overall function. If the heart does not squeeze well, this is known as systolic heart failure or heart failure with a reduced ejection fraction.1
As the heart begins to stiffen, it loses its ability to fill up appropriately. When the heart can no longer adequately fill with blood, this is called diastolic heart failure or heart failure with preserved ejection fraction. A stiff heart doesn’t adequately fill with enough blood to send to the rest of the body.1
How often do you encounter heart failure myths?
Heart failure is not the same as congestive heart failure.
Congestive heart failure (CHF) and heart failure are actually interchangeable as they are terms that describe the same disease. The term “congestive” heart failure is used to describe some of the symptoms that one may develop as a result of heart failure.
The congestion in the heart can easily be related to the congestion one might run into on a backed-up freeway. When someone has heart failure the blood vessels become congested and the fluid backs up. Said fluid usually builds up in or around the person’s legs, abdomen, or lungs. Symptoms of congestive heart failure can include:
- Inability to lie flat at night when sleeping
- Shortness of breath
- A feeling of fullness in the abdomen
- Lingering cough
- Swelling in the legs &/or feet
You can’t prevent heart failure This is partially true and partially false. With many chronic conditions, there are going to be some aspects that you can control and some that you can’t. Heart failure is the same. You have no control over things like your age or family history. But you can change any of your risky habits that increase your possibility of developing heart failure. A few examples include managing stress, limiting alcohol intake, and eating a heart-healthy diet.1
Heart failure is a death sentence. In the past, heart failure was definitely seen as a death sentence. But over the last decade or so, treatment has improved by leaps and bounds. Not only has the availability of new medications improved, but the types of procedures, like pacemaker placement, have also helped to improve quality and length of life for those with heart failure.
That being said, it is important to mention that heart failure continues to have no cure despite all the research being done. However, there are great treatments out there available now and many on the horizon. Over the last 10+ years, so much research has been done. We now know that treatment for heart failure is no longer linear. In order to treat it most effectively, the treatments need to include medication, diet, activity, and self-care. With the improved treatment options available to help control or manage heart failure, the symptoms may be more tolerable.
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