Are You at Risk for Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a condition in which your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. Although heart failure doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped working, it can be a serious condition that can worsen and lead to disability, if not managed effectively.

Heart failure is not a heart attack

“While some of the symptoms of heart failure may be similar to those of a heart attack, they are not the same,” says Ketan Gala, MD, FACC, Medical Director of the Advanced Heart Failure program at Cooper University Health Care and member provider of Cooper and Inspira Cardiac Care.

Heart attacks occur when the heart’s blood supply is blocked, usually by a build-up of plaque in the arteries, which causes damage to the heart muscle. In some cases, the muscle may be incapacitated permanently.

Heart failure does not necessarily mean that the heart muscle is damaged, but it does mean that the heart cannot pump blood efficiently. As blood flow slows, pressure in the heart increases, preventing it from pumping sufficient oxygen and nutrients to meet the body’s needs. The heart’s chambers may expand to hold more blood (to pump through the body) or become thick and stiff. These responses can help keep blood flowing short-term, but can weaken the heart over time.

Who develops heart failure?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 6.2 million adults in the United States have a diagnosis of heart failure. There are many causes, including heart attacks, viral infections, valve problems, unhealthy lifestyles, and other diseases or conditions.

“Anyone can develop heart failure, but it is more common in people with certain risk factors, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or a family history of heart failure,” Dr. Gala says. “People over the age of 65 are also at greater risk.”

These factors, combined with unhealthy behaviors such as eating a diet high in fat, excessive alcohol intake, smoking tobacco, and lack of exercise, can increase an individual’s chance of a heart failure diagnosis.

What are the symptoms of heart failure?

The most common symptom of heart failure is shortness of breath, but other symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Swelling in the ankles, legs, or abdomen
  • Inability to perform normal activities, such as walking, climbing stairs, or carrying groceries
  • Shortness of breath when lying down or with normal activity
  • Persistent cough or wheezing
  • Rapid weight gain from fluid retention
  • Nausea and lack of appetite

Living with heart failure

Heart failure can be a chronic condition that requires lifelong treatment. It  may also be acute, meaning that heart failure comes on suddenly and requires immediate medical attention. Surgery is sometimes necessary to repair or replace damaged heart valves. Some patients require an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD), which keeps track of their heart rhythm and sends a small shock if the heart falls out of rhythm.

While there is no cure for heart failure, there are treatments that can improve symptoms and help patients live longer, healthier lives.

“We prescribe medications to help improve heart function and reduce fluid retention,” Dr. Gala says. “Many patients are also put on blood thinners — at least temporarily.”

Health care providers often recommend the following actions to help manage symptoms:

  • Get regular exercise to improve your heart function and reduce fluid retention
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit salt intake
  • Avoid smoking
  • Manage stress, which can make symptoms worse
  • See your doctor regularly to identify problems early and prevent symptoms from getting worse

“Heart failure can be a serious diagnosis, but effective management can prevent the condition from worsening,” says Dr. Gala. “With proper treatment and monitoring, patients can live full and active lifestyles with a heart failure diagnosis.”

To learn more about the Cooper and Inspira Cardiac Care Heart Failure program, click here.

If you or someone you know has symptoms of heart failure, make an appointment with one of the cardiac specialists at Cooper and Inspira Cardiac Care. Call 833.SJHEART (833.754.3278) or visit

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