What does heart failure feel like?
According to the British Heart Foundation, there are over half a million people in the UK living with heart failure (HF). They say they experience:
- Shortness of breath, not only during an activity but also at rest.
- Swollen feet, ankles and legs.
- Feeling unusually weak and tired most of the time, and feeling exhausted after an activity or exercise.
What causes heart failure?
It usually occurs if the heart is too weak, or 'stiff', to pump blood around the body as well as it used to. Consequently, the heart needs some support to help it work better again. Although HF is more common in the elderly, it can also occur at any age.
One of the most common reasons for the heart weakening is heart muscle damage. This may occur following a heart attack. But there are other conditions that can also lead to heart failure, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart rhythm problems (also known as arrhythmias)
- Coronary heart disease
- Congenital heart disease
What can you do to prevent heart failure?
According to NHS Choices, there are a few things you can do yourself to help reduce your risk of HF. The aim of these prevention strategies is to lower blood pressure and reduce levels of bad cholesterol in the blood.
- Tip 1: Eat a healthy, balanced diet with low-fat, high-fibre and five portions of fruit and vegetables.
- Tip 2: Stay active with regular exercise to make the heart and circulatory system more efficient, helping to regulate blood pressure.
- Tip 3: Maintain a healthy weight - you can find your body mass index using a BMI calculator, or ask your GP.
- Tip 4: Give up smoking to reduce the risk of developing furring of the arteries.
- Tip 5: Cut back on the consumption of alcohol.
What is heart failure treatment?
A cure for this condition is only a possibility when there is a treatable cause, such as replacing damaged heart valves. Otherwise, treatment focuses on controlling the symptoms. By controlling the symptoms people are able to live full and active lives.
Sometimes implantable devices, such as a pacemaker, or other surgery will be needed. However, for the majority of people, a combination of medication and lifestyle changes will be sufficient to control and stabilise symptoms.
How heart failure affects daily living
Because the heart isn’t able to pump blood around the body as well as it used to, the load on the breathing muscles, mainly the diaphragm, increases. This results in a significant contribution to the feeling of breathlessness. Consequently, this affects a person’s everyday life. In fact, something like simple everyday tasks feel tiring. As a result, quality of life diminishes.
Did you know?
During February 11- 17, the Heart Failure Society of America (HFSA) will increase national awareness about the severity of heart failure. In Europe, Heart Failure Awareness Week will fall in May.
These awareness days take place because the number of people with heart failure is increasing. In fact, projections show it will rise by 46% (2030), according to the American Heart Association's 2017 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update.
Heart failure (HF) is a long-term condition. There is currently no cure and symptoms will get worse over time. Sadly HF also has a poor prognosis, with 30-40% of patients dying within a year. However, if diagnosed early enough, symptoms can be controlled for many years.
Improving quality of life
There are many research studies showing that Inspiratory Muscle Training (IMT) successfully increases both inspiratory strength and endurance. They also show that stronger breathing muscles will alleviate breathlessness and improve functional status in chronic heart failure.
In one particular study, findings reveal that in patients with HF and inspiratory muscle weakness, IMT results in:
- Marked improvement in inspiratory muscle strength
- Improvement in functional capacity
- Improvement in ventilatory response to exercise
- Improvement in recovery oxygen uptake kinetics
- Improvement in quality of life
Training the inspiratory muscles
POWERbreathe IMT is a hand-held breathing muscle training device. It is drug-free with no known side effects and no interactions with existing treatments. There are also no reports of any adverse events. It is easy to use as you only need to breathe forcefully IN through the device for 30 breaths, twice a day.
Because the cardiovascular strain of POWERbreathe training is very low, it is suitable for even the most physically compromised patients and is particularly helpful in patients who are too ill for rehabilitation.
POWERbreathe training is completely safe for the vast majority of patients. However there may be small theoretical risks for some patients. For instance, IMT will not be a recommendation for patients with a history of spontaneous pneumothorax.
The POWERbreathe Medic is approved by the NHS's PPA and is available on prescription in the UK.
Always check with your doctor first before undertaking anything new for the treatment of any medical condition.