From keeping close tab on symptoms to watching weight, lifestyle changes to make after heart failure

A confluence of hectic schedules, high-pressure jobs, demanding academic regimes, poor dietary choices, and lack of physical activity, often leads to poor quality of sleep, smoking, frequent alcohol intake, along with increased stress levels

Dr VT Shah December 02, 2021 15:18:43 IST
From keeping close tab on symptoms to watching weight, lifestyle changes to make after heart failure

Representational image. AFP

Adults in India are known to carry a naturally high risk for premature heart disease, which is unsurprisingly the leading cause of untimely deaths in our population. Heart disease may manifest in several ways, as an outcome of diverse health-problems. It can manifest in people who are older in age, have a first-degree relative with premature heart disease, have excessive body weight, high blood-pressure, type-2 diabetes, high lipid-levels, anaemia, thyroid-disorder, kidney disease, consume tobacco, or even those with a genetic predisposition to heart disease.

Heart failure is a chronic condition that occurs when the heart muscles become weak and are unable to pump sufficient blood to the rest of the body, thus failing to meet the body’s need for oxygenated blood. It can also result in the build-up of fluids in the lungs, resulting in difficulty in breathing.

People often confuse a heart attack with heart failure. In some cases, a heart attack might be the cause of heart failure, but the two aren’t the same. A heart attack is unanticipated and occurs unexpectedly when there is a sudden reduction in the flow of blood to a section of the heart, typically resulting in the death of part of a heart muscle. Heart failure, on the other hand, in most cases is a progressive (at times acute) condition in which the heart cannot keep up with its workload, restricting the required amount of oxygen that the body may need.

Heart failure affects about 1-2 percent of our adult population, with an increased predisposition in older people. However, recent studies do indicate that India’s young population bears an increased risk of premature cardio-metabolic diseases that may also lead to heart failure. The source for this can be found in the lifestyle patterns prevalent in today’s day and age.

A confluence of hectic schedules, high-pressure jobs, demanding academic regimes, poor dietary choices, and lack of physical activity, often leads to poor quality of sleep, smoking, frequent alcohol intake, along with increased stress levels.

Such a maladaptive state may lead to increased blood pressure, metabolic derangements, and health complications, directly affecting the cardiovascular system, thus making one vulnerable to a host of diseases.

Yet, you need to be aware that you have the control to change the outcome; there's a lot that can be done to manage the condition and stop it from getting worse:

Keep a close tab on your symptoms

Identifying the symptoms early on is a good starting point. The significance of detecting early/subtle signs of heart failure can aid in getting the required help in a timely manner. For instance, identifying the building up of excess fluids early can prevent hospital admission. Furthermore, consulting a doctor immediately after recognizing symptoms like breathlessness, fatigue, persistent coughing or wheezing, lack of appetite, nausea, confusion, and increased heart rate can help in starting with the required treatment. However, early detection of heart failure among the elderly could be a challenge due to other prevailing conditions, but regular consultations with a physician should help.

Take prescribed medication consistently

The recent years have seen innovation take centre stage in heart failure management, leading to the emergence of new drugs that not only improve/treat symptoms but also prolong lifespan. Today, we have medications backed by well-conducted clinical trials with significantly fewer side effects that can help manage heart failure in a better manner. However, non-compliance to the prescribed medications will only advance the stages of the condition. Thus, following and sticking to the doctor’s advice is highly recommended.

Maintain an active lifestyle

Staying active is critical. In heart failure, the concept of ‘take it easy’ might be a major roadblock in treating the condition. One must be aware and committed to making lifestyle changes. Non-adherence to a healthy and calculated regimen can be detrimental, as the rest of the body loses its resilience and ends up becoming as weak as the heart. Using less salt, cutting out fried foods, and increasing physical activity under expert guidance can go a long way for people diagnosed with heart failure.

Watch your weight

Extra fluid retention in the body can be one of the effects of heart failure, leading to rapid weight gain and swelling in the feet or legs, ankles, and at times around the stomach. This increase in weight is different than what happens due to body fat, as it is more gradual. In heart failure cases, an increase in weight happens quickly due to fluid retention and happens because blood isn’t being pumped to the kidneys as well as it should be, making it harder for them to remove salt and water. Effective weight management through regular weight checks and recording helps in identifying any patterns that could indicate the need to consult a doctor.

Today, with over 60 million patients being affected by heart failure, the condition continues to have a huge impact around the world. Globally, it is a leading cause of hospitalization and 1 in 5 people are estimated to develop heart failure in their lifetime.

While the numbers are concerning, one needs to understand that heart failure is a result of longstanding poor lifestyle habits in most cases and will take as long to reverse/treat as it did to create it in the first place.

However, bear in mind that heart failure is not the end, but the beginning of a resilient journey, supported by a gamut of positive lifestyle changes.

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