In 2003 a diagnosis of heart failure shocked me. I had no prior heart problem and tests would reveal I had no coronary artery disease, no heart attack, no high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Yet there I was in a cardiologist’s office getting the news that I had heart failure. The symptoms that brought me to his office were frightening -- shortness of breath and fatigue, swollen ankles and abdomen. The diagnosis was scarier.
As a longtime health journalist, I immediately began to research heart failure to learn as much as I could about it. I went to three different cardiologists looking for treatment, and none of them put me on the medicines I discovered were recommended by a national panel of cardiologists. I had medical mishaps along the way and my condition remained poor. Knowing I was not yet on the most effective treatment, I sought out a fourth cardiologist. Success! He put me on the treatments recommended by the heart failure committee of the American College of Cardiologists and American Heart Association and I began getting better. I asked him to write this book with me. I wanted to alert the public to a growing epidemic of heart failure and save other patients and families going through what I did. Our mission was a search for the truth about all aspects of heart failure. In this book we say what works and what the scientific evidence behind it is, and what harmful side effects to watch out for with diagnostic tests, medicines, and implanted devices.
We wrote this book for people diagnosed with heart failure and their families, people at risk for getting heart failure, and physicians and nurses who treat heart failure patients but don’t specialize in heart failure. Patients and families, please learn all you can about heart failure and what may have caused yours. Get informed and then get involved in your own treatment plan. Become an active partner with your doctor in your commitment to overcome heart failure. There is much you can do for yourself. I wish you success and happiness and, most of all, good health.
Untreated, heart failure is deadly. As many as 50% of people with untreated heart failure die within 5 years. If you have symptoms of heart failure that may include shortness of breath, fatigue, and swollen ankles, legs, and abdomen, please see a doctor immediately. Don't leave heart failure untreated. There are excellent treatments for heart failure today and if people are diagnosed and get onto a proper treatment plan, most people with heart failure can expect to get better and live active lives. Not all people with heart failure have symptoms. If they are lucky enough to get their heart failure diagnosed during a doctor's visit, they, too, should begin taking medications to prevent the heart failure from progressing. Untreated, heart failure will progress. Don't leave it untreated.
Just what is heart failure? It is the medical term given to a heart that no longer meets the body’s needs during normal activity. Many different diseases or abnormalities in the heart and major blood vessels can cause the symptoms called heart failure. You may read somewhere that heart failure means a weakened heart. That is true in only about half the cases of heart failure – those where the heart has become large and stretched. You can have heart failure and not have a weakened heart. The second most common type of heart failure occurs when the left ventricle of the heart becomes stiff, and as a result, the heart doesn’t fill well with blood. Or you can have a completely normal heart muscle and yet develop heart failure if, for instance, a heart valve becomes narrowed and blocks blood flow, or an abnormal connection between arteries and veins forces the heart to do extra work pumping blood that returns to the heart prematurely. And there are other ways to arrive at heart failure. So the definition is not simple and the causes of heart failure are many. But in all heart failure, the heart is unable to provide the blood and oxygen that the body needs to work well.
In this book, we give you hope based on knowledge. Hope that if you get on the right treatment plan, follow a prudent diet, exercise and take your medications correctly that you will do much better. To do much better, you need to be informed. You need to know what heart failure is, how it occurs and what can be done about it. An informed patient is the physician's best partner. This book will help you become better informed about all aspects of heart failure. We hope it helps you to a better life.
Ed Kasper, MD