Should we start with the good news or the bad news? First, let’s get the bad out of the way. Despite advances in treatment for heart failure, death rates from the disease are steadily increasing. An estimated six million adults in the United States are currently living with the condition. Now, the good news. We know how to curb heart failure! You don’t have to be the one in five adults who develop the devastating disease.
Understanding heart failure
The heart is a muscle that pumps blood throughout the body. It is comprised of four chambers, two on the top and two on the bottom. The upper chambers, the atria, receive blood from the veins in the body. The lower chambers, the ventricles, pump blood out. Blood arrives from the body to the right atrium, flowing to the right ventricle. From there, it is sent to the lungs to gather oxygen. After visiting the lungs, the newly oxygenated blood comes back to the left atrium and ventricle, which gets pumped to the rest of the body.
Congestive heart failure (CHF) occurs when the heart muscle becomes damaged or weakened over time. When someone is in heart failure, the heart may not be strong enough to pump blood around the body, or it may be too stiff to relax enough to accept all the blood back from the lungs.
What types of heart failure exist?
The average heart beats anywhere from 60-100 times per minute. Each time a healthy heart contracts, the left ventricle sends approximately 50-70 percent of the blood in the heart out to the rest of the body. This measurement, known as the ejection fraction, is one gauge of how well the heart is working.
Lower ejection fractions indicate that the heat pump is not working as well as it should be and that heart failure may be to blame. There are a few different ways that the heart begins to fail:
- Left-sided heart failure: The most common type of heart failure, left-sided heart failure occurs when the left ventricles cannot pump oxygenated blood to the body. Without oxygen, tissues and organs are unable to work as well and begin to fail.
The most common causes of are high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. Other causes include diabetes, kidney disease, pericarditis, and heart valve disease. Left-sided heart failure can be divided further into two types:
- Systolic failure: Systolic failure, or heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF), occurs when the left side of the heart cannot squeeze enough. Simply put, the pump is not strong enough to circulate the blood through the body.
- Diastolic failure: Diastolic failure, or heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), occurs when the left side of the heart becomes stiff and does not relax enough to fill with blood adequately. The heart squeezes fine, but not enough blood enters the heart, which reduces the amount of blood sent to the rest of the body.
- Right-sided heart failure: Right-sided heart failure is typically a result of left-sided failure, although it can also occur due to certain lung diseases. As blood begins to pool in the left side of the heart and the pulmonary artery, the right side has to work harder to move blood to the left side.
How do I know if I have heart failure?
The most common presenting symptom of heart failure is breathlessness that occurs with minimal or no activity. It sometimes happens when lying down or at night. Other possible symptoms of include:
- Unexpected weight gain
- Extreme tiredness/exhaustion
- New onset of cough or phlegm in throat
- Water retention
- Swollen legs or feet
- Stomach fullness
- Heart pounding/palpitations
If your cardiologist suspects heart failure, other tests will be conducted. The most common diagnostic tool is an echocardiogram.
How long can I live with heart failure?
Survival rates depend on many factors, including the severity of the disease, underlying cause, age, gender, and other comorbidities. However, on average, 50 percent of people can expect to survive five years after diagnosis.
Can I recover from heart failure?
Heart failure is typically considered a life-long progressive condition, although there are some instances where it can be reversed. Identifying the root cause of heart failure is essential in formulating the best treatment plan. Even if you can’t fully recover from heart failure, lifestyle changes can slow the progress of the disease, improve your quality of life, and help you live longer.
7 ways to reduce your risk of developing heart failure
Perhaps the most tragic thing about congestive heart failure is that it is highly preventable in most cases. The following seven tips will help to keep it at bay:
Follow the 100 Year Heart Diet
There are a lot of fad diets out there. But the best way to eat is by following the organic, 100 Year Heart Diet to protect your cardiovascular system. This diet encourages real, whole foods like vegetables, meat, eggs, fish, and occasional fruit. It excludes sugar, most grains, and processed foods, as these contribute to heart disease.
It’s no secret that exercise is good for the heart, but the preventative effects on heart failure are exceptional. A 2015 study of over 370,000 participants found that individuals who met the recommended levels of physical activity had 10 percent lower rates of heart failure than those who did not exercise at all. What’s more, those who exercised at four times the recommended rate reduced their risk of heart failure by a whopping 35 percent.
Watch your stress
Did you know that extreme stress, shock, or sadness can cause the heart to break? Takotsubo syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy, occurs when a person suffers a sudden stressful event. It mimics a heart attack without the blockages or blood clots. Takotsubo syndrome proves that the heart muscle is highly susceptible to stress.
Stress is one of the most significant risk factors for high blood pressure, and high blood pressure is the leading cause of heart failure. Therefore, it stands to reason that stress is a huge contributor to heart failure. Lower your stress levels through meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and eliminating things in your life that do not bring happiness.
Focus on quality sleep
Sleep is often the forgotten pillar of health, despite it being as essential for the heart as nutritious food and exercise. Sleep allows the body time to restore after a long day. Sleep is also critical for warding off heart failure. A 2020 study found that adults with the healthiest sleep patterns lowered their risk of heart failure by 42 percent compared to those with poor sleep hygiene.
Aim for at least 8 hours of quality sleep each night. Ensure that your sleeping space is free of electronics, light, and distractions. Establish a relaxing sleep routine that you stick to nightly.
Don’t neglect time in the sun
Sunshine is more powerful than it’s given credit for, especially when it comes to health. In addition to boosting nitric oxide and Vitamin D supply in the body, it also helps to regulate “feel good” hormones in the brain.
Sunshine might also be a protective factor. A recent study concluded that Vitamin D could prevent the heart from scarring after a heart attack, thus warding off heart failure.
Spend time in the sun each day, whenever possible. Morning sunlight is best for regulating sleep hormones, while mid-afternoon sun is best for vitamin D production.
Reduce exposure to toxins
Toxins are all around us. They lurk in the air we breathe, in the water we drink, and in the soil where we grow our food. Yet, while certain toxins are unavoidable, there is so much in our environment that we can control.
Environmental pollutants have a significant impact on heart disease. Studies have demonstrated the adverse effects of poor air quality on heart failure patients.
As we spend most of our time at home, begin taking an inventory of the chemicals that reside under your roof. Start by eliminating toxic cleaning supplies, laundry detergents, and soaps. Then, consider changing out more significant items such as carpeting and mattresses.
Spend time grounding to the earth
Most of us have experienced the zen-like feeling that comes with spending time outdoors. However, very few understand the healing value of physically touching the earth. Grounding, or earthing, is the practice of creating an electrical connection to the world under our feet. As our bodies have an electrical charge, the earth neutralizes those charges.
Grounding has been shown to decrease inflammation, improve mood, and aid in circulation. A small 2018 study also shows promise for cardiovascular health. Hypertensive patients who grounded themselves regularly saw significant reductions in blood pressure.
Spend time each day connecting with the earth, whether lying in the grass or touching rocks or the dirt. Whenever possible, walk barefoot.
Some health conditions are more easily reversed than others. Heart failure typically causes permanent and irreversible damage to your heart. While a healthy lifestyle might slow the course, it’s hard to stop the progression of heart failure once it’s begun. The best cure for heart failure is prevention. Healthy choices today can prevent disease tomorrow. Contact us to get an expert NHD practitioner on your side who can help you create and stick with a plan to achieve your 100 Year Heart.
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Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD