DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 71 years old and have been diagnosed with chronic heart failure. In October of last year, I had triple bypass surgery, but now I’m in good health. Some things I have read about chronic heart failure are unnerving. Will you give me your take on what lies ahead for me? — S.T.
ANSWER: Heart failure, chronic heart failure and congestive heart failure are the same condition. It’s one of the most common reasons why older people are hospitalized. The basic problem is that the heart has become so weak that it circulates blood poorly. Such poor circulation permits fluid to ooze out of blood vessels and “congest” tissues in the feet, ankles and lower legs. The lungs fill with fluid, which brings on heart failure’s cardinal feature — gasping for breath on even slight exertion.
Other signs of heart failure are breathlessness when lying in bed, heart enlargement, seen on X-rays, and the doctor’s discovery of lung sounds that indicate the lungs have fluid in them.
Numerous conditions lead to heart failure. At the top of the list is coronary artery disease, the blockage of heart arteries that often brings on a heart attack. This must be why your heart failed. You did have surgery to correct blocked heart arteries, but they did their damage well before surgery took place. Heart valve problems, high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation are other causes of heart failure.
Medicines usually can get the heart beating with greater vigor and can lessen or abolish most symptoms. Anything that affects heart function must be treated. High blood pressure, for example, has to be lowered.
You ought not to be discouraged about your outlook. The life span of people with congestive heart failure has increased by 15 percent in men and by 5 percent in women in just the past decade. The increment in women’s life span is smaller because women live longer, on average, than men.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I read that more heart attacks occur in winter than in summer. Why? If you dress warmly, does that protect you? — N.C.
ANSWER: Cold weather is a stress on the body and the heart. The heart has to work harder to keep the body warm by pumping more blood than it ordinarily does. That extra effort is too much for hearts not in the best of shape. Dressing warmly lessens the risk.
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©2014 North America Synd.