If you’re living with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) you know that it’s a serious diagnosis…but that doesn’t have to mean you’re at the end of the line. So, this is really about living with and surviving Congestive Heart Failure.
A diagnosis of CHF doesn’t mean your heart has stopped working, it means that your heart is unable to pump enough blood throughout your body.
For most people, however, the term “Heart Failure” is scary. And, while the condition can worsen if the proper steps aren’t taken to slow or stop the problem, it can be managed.
Congestive Heart Failure, (also commonly known as “heart failure”), occurs when there’s a reduction in blood flow throughout the body because blood flow from the heart slows down.
That means blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up, causing congestion in the body’s tissues.
That congestion may cause swelling in the ankles, legs, or stomach, as well as fluid in the lungs that causes trouble breathing.
Life expectancy with congestive heart failure varies depending on the severity of the condition, genetics, age, and other factors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around one-half of all people diagnosed with congestive heart failure will survive beyond five years.
Although there is no cure for heart failure, it’s important to manage the condition with medication and lifestyle changes to prevent it from worsening.
To improve life expectancy while living with congestive heart failure, learn about the different stages of the disease and what to do after diagnosis.
The Stages of Congestive Heart Failure
The first thing to understand is that regardless of the “stage” of heart failure, it is a chronic, long-term heart health condition that can worsen over time.
The sooner you begin making lifestyle changes to treat the condition, the better chance you have at improving your outcome.
CHF Stage A
This is “pre-heart failure.” It means you’re at risk of developing heart failure because you or someone in your family has diabetes, high blood pressure, early coronary artery disease, or there’s a family history of cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle.
If you meet any of those conditions, you are the one we’d like to prevent getting heart failure.
Treatment may include:
- Changing your diet
- Watching your salt intake
- Reducing your alcohol consumption, if applicable
- Increasing exercise
- Possibly taking blood pressure medicines or other medication.
CHF Stage B
This diagnosis is also early in the progression of heart failure. It means you already have some changes to the heart that could lead to heart failure.
For example, your heart health might also be compromised because of blood pressure, but you don’t have classic symptoms of heart failure — yet.
Patients in this stage typically may have had a prior heart attack or have some form of heart valve disease.
- Treatments could include those from stage A, as well as possible surgery or intervention such as treatment for coronary artery blockage, heart attack, or valve disease.
CHF Stage C
People at this stage have already been diagnosed with heart failure, and now have or have previously had signs and symptoms of the condition, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Inability to exercise
- Swelling of their legs
- Waking up short of breath after lying down.
If we can get these people on a good medication regimen, they can have a good, long quality of life. We know medication works on this group of people.
Cardiac rehabilitation can also help people with stage C heart failure recover everyday functions and help them live longer lives and reduce symptoms.
CHF Stage D
This is an advanced stage of heart failure, and these patients are the sickest.
These are the candidates for a heart transplant, a mechanical heart pump, or end-of-life care if there are no other options.
Patients with this stage of heart failure should see a specialist to help determine the best course of treatment and which options are still on the table.
It’s critical that they see a specialist within a few days of someone telling them they have stage D heart failure.
Seeing a specialist may present more treatment options for people diagnosed with any stage of heart failure.
Make sure to bring a list of your questions to the appointment, as well as a list of your medication, and a supportive family member. Quite often a family member may have noticed symptoms of fatigue or shortness of breath that the patient forgot about.
But, can you get better after being diagnosed with Heart Failure?
Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition, which means it gets worse with time. But even though it doesn’t necessarily get better, managing heart failure the right way can help reduce symptoms and slow down the progression of the condition.
Heart Failure does not have to mean a death sentence.
According to the CDC, 5.7 million people in the United States are living with heart failure. However, there are several conditions that can weaken the heart enough to lead to heart failure, including:
- Coronary heart disease or heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Faulty heart valves
- Damage to the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
- Inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis)
- Congenital heart defects
- Abnormal heart rhythms (heart arrhythmias)
- Other chronic diseases, like diabetes, HIV, or thyroid disease.
Depending on the stage and severity of the condition, some patients may need more aggressive treatment, but it is very possible to live a very good life with a diagnosis of heart failure.
What to Expect if you’ve been diagnosed with heart failure:
There are (of course) several lifestyle changes you should take into account if you’ve been diagnosed with CHF. But it’s important to remember that your diagnosis doesn’t mean you should necessarily stop doing things you love.
You are, however, supposed to be exercising – walking, biking, swimming or doing light weight exercises.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days a week for optimal heart health.
Avoid exercises that make you feel short of breath, and make sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Your doctor should also suggest dietary changes that can help reduce the swelling associated with congestive heart failure and slow the progression of the condition.
Those changes may include following a low or reduced-salt diet (such as the DASH Diet see links below) or reducing how much fluid you drink to lessen the body’s water content.
Other lifestyle changes that can prevent CHF from progressing include:
- Quitting smoking
- Avoiding alcohol
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Getting adequate sleep and rest
- Controlling high blood pressure
- Reducing stress
Click on the underlined links above to learn more about each of these prevention strategies.
For some patients, doctors may prescribe some specific medications.
Drugs may also be prescribed to reduce symptoms, including diuretics, Digitalis (which can increase blood flow throughout your body and reduce swelling in your hands and ankles), as well as and medications to manage irregular heart rhythms.
If being on medication leads to an improvement of symptoms and your health, your doctor may recommend that you stay on them for good, as they may help prolong your life.
I know that so much of this, maybe all of this sounds repetitive when we discuss so many things that you can do for prevention. Things like diet, exercise and rest.
But, those really are the bottom line when it comes to improving your current life and preventing complications in the future.
Really…what it takes is a commitment to making better choices, finding the right doctor(s) and enjoying a life free of disease.
Learn More by clicking the links throughout the article, they are in blue and underlined to give you valuable information for specific steps to improve the quality of your days.
Read More About The Dash Diet Here