Despite its name, heart failure does not mean your heart has completely failed. It means your heart does not pump blood as well as it should. According to the American Heart Association, there are four main stages of heart failure:
- Stage A: High risk for developing heart disease – Risk factors include high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, congenital heart defects and irregular heartbeats. If your doctor determines you are at risk for heart failure, there are many ways you can lower your risk. You need to adopt a heart-healthy diet and establish an exercise routine. You also may need to take certain medications to control your blood pressure or heart rhythm.
- Stage B: Heart failure with no symptoms – About one in three cases of heart failure is due to an enlarged left ventricle (the main pumping chamber of the heart). Some people have an enlarged heart, but have not experienced any of the typical signs of heart failure.
- Stage C: Heart failure with symptoms – A classic symptom of heart failure is shortness of breath when you exert yourself or lie down. This is because your heart is having difficulty emptying and filling itself with blood. This causes a great deal of pressure in the blood vessels around the lung. Other symptoms include weakness; swelling in the legs, arms and feet; sudden weight gain and increased need to urinate at night. While you cannot cure heart failure, your doctor can help you manage it with medications.
- Stage D: End-stage heart failure – When heart failure has become so advanced that medication will not help, you may need a device to help your heart beat properly or surgery such as valve replacement, coronary artery bypass or heart transplant. It is important that you talk with your doctor about your options. You need to understand the potential side effects of any treatment and decide what best fits you.
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