Be kind to your heart
(News Canada) — With heart failure on the rise, it’s important not to confuse it with other heart conditions.
“Heart failure is not the same as a heart attack,” explains Dr. Gavin Arthur of the Heart & Stroke Foundation. “And it is vital to know the difference.”
Heart failure is an incurable condition that happens when the heart itself is damaged or scarred. Unlike a heart attack, heart failure is not a sudden medical emergency. Instead, over time heart failure causes the heart to become progressively weaker. It can no longer pump adequate blood around the body. The signs are not sudden and can be subtle. There is no cure yet and without medication and careful attention to diet and lifestyle the prognosis is very poor.
Tracy Bawtinheimer, a 51-year-old executive, knows from experience how easy it is to ignore the signs. After months of dizziness, extreme shortness of breath and unexplained weight gain that she attributed to stress and travel, she finally went to the emergency department. She was diagnosed with a heart rhythm disorder that was damaging her heart. Bawtinheimer now lives with heart failure, daily medication and an acceptance that she can’t always be as active as she once was.
“Pay attention to changes in your health and listen to your intuition,” she says. “It’s always better to consult a physician than assume you understand the cause of unexplained changes.”
“Recognizing heart failure early is the key to slowing down the progression so you have the best chance of staying out of hospital and living longer,” says Arthur. The warning signs include shortness of breath, especially when lying flat; sudden weight gain; bloating; cough or cold symptoms that last more than a week; extreme fatigue; loss of appetite; increased urination at night and swelling in the ankles, feet or abdomen.
“If you see any of these signs, talk to your doctor,” notes Arthur.
DIET AND LIFESTYLE CHANGES CAN HELP
Heart failure is a growing epidemic in Canada with one in five people developing the condition during their lifetime. But you can easily make some tweaks to your everyday lifestyle to improve your heart health now.
“Each year, 50,000 new patients are diagnosed with heart failure, and depending on the severity of symptoms, age and other factors, half of them will not survive five years,” says Arthur. “There is no cure yet, but if it is caught early, lifestyle changes and appropriate drug treatments can help you lead a normal and active life, stay out of hospital and live longer.”
One reason heart failure it is on the rise is that more people are surviving heart attacks and other acute heart conditions — but not without some lasting damage to their hearts. This damage, over time, makes them more susceptible to heart failure.
“Heart failure can greatly impact quality of life — many people face repeated hospitalizations and are unable to do everyday tasks,” notes Arthur. “Even a walk to the corner can become very difficult for many. However, progression of symptoms can be slowed if it is treated early with appropriate medication and careful attention to diet and lifestyle.”
To stay on top of your heart health, choose nutritious meals with lots of produce, find a fun physical activity to keep you active and work on maintaining a healthy weight. Learn more about heart failure, including the warning signs to watch for, online at heartandstroke.ca/heartfailure.
DANCE YOUR WAY TO BETTER HEALTH
A diagnosis of heart failure can be devastating, especially for those without a support network. But it turns out dancing — whether it is ballroom, tap or line dance — might be a key to living better and longer.
According to Arthur, keeping active at any age is important, but for people with heart failure, it is even more so. Just be sure to check with your doctor first.
“Choosing physical activity that has a social component is particularly great for people living with heart failure. Often people who are diagnosed with this disease can experience isolation and depression,” he explains. “Being involved in a group activity can help strengthen social and emotional connections, an important aspect of taking control of this condition.”
That’s why heart failure patient Jerry Alfonso has made line dancing his passion. “I started because I wanted to be doing something in the evening. I learned a few dances, then one thing led to another and now I teach several classes every week,” he says. “I reach out to people to get up and exercise and while they come and dance with me I try to talk with them and encourage them to eat a healthy diet.”
Alfonso’s enthusiasm is infectious, and now his classes range from beginners through to advanced line dancers. He knows that having a strong support network can be a safety net for people living with heart failure, and encourages everyone — whether you are living with heart disease or just looking to keep active — to think about joining a class or community group.
Connecting with people who understand can be a great source of information and support. In-person and online support groups can be very helpful to combat social isolation. Connect with others and find more information online at http://www.heartandstroke.ca/