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Is Heart Failure a Disease?

According to the CDC, almost 6 MILLION people in the United States suffer from heart failure (also referred to as congestive heart failure), and with 1 in 9 people deaths associated with heart failure related conditions, you would think that it is one of the leading diseases in the United States. However, heart failure in and of itself is not a disease, but rather the later stage manifestation of one or more other diseases.

The American Heart Association’s Heart Disease and Stroke Statistical Update for 2019 showed a staggering find. At least 48% of American adults have some form of cardiovascular disease. While this number is, in part, due to the lowering of the threshold considered to be high blood pressure, it is still shocking. Many of these diseases are the precursor to heart failure, including:

  • Heart attack, which can destroy heart muscle and ultimately weaken the heart, especially if post heart attack instructions for lifestyle change are not followed
  • High cholesterol, which can cause plaque to form in the arteries and block blood flow to the heart creating a heart attack
  • High blood pressure or hypertension, which can increase strain on the heart and reduce its pumping ability over time
  • Sleep apnea, when a patient’s breathing is obstructed at times during the night, often caused by obesity or excess weight
  • Diabetes, which increases the amount of sugar in the blood and has proven to hasten the onset or worsen existing cardiovascular problems
  • Excess weight and obesity, which can cause any of the above
  • And smoking, which can thicken and narrow the blood vessels, increase plaque formation within the arteries and increase bad cholesterol levels

Other factors such as congenital heart defects, genetics and certain medications can all contribute to increased risk heart failure as well.

Fortunately, it is estimated that upwards of 80% of all cardiovascular problems can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle or early intervention. Sadly, most people who have progressed to heart failure were not able to control their cardiovascular problems in time, which ultimately lead to serious consequences.

How long can you live with heart failure?

While the prognosis for treatment of heart failure can vary based on the level or stage the patient has reached, the most important next step is to treat the underlying condition that may be causing or worsening the heart failure. This may be done through a surgical procedure or lifestyle change including improved diet and exercise. Medications will be necessary to mitigate symptoms and treat some of the underlying conditions.

Although statistics do not accurately reflect an individual patient’s prognosis, it is estimated that about 50% of heart failure patients have an average life expectancy of under five years. Life expectancy is significantly worse for those with advanced heart failure.

Can you recover from heart failure?

Unfortunately, full recovery from heart failure is not possible. When heart failure is caught in early stages, our goal is to mitigate any progression or worsening and to strengthen the heart as much as possible to avoid many of the symptoms and extend both life expectancy and quality of life.

With a significant proportion of heart failure patients being under the age of 60, it is important that we discuss heart failure earlier in life, as most cases are preventable. Further, it is important to remember that heart failure, while not a disease itself, is a very real consequence of a number of diseases that have become more prevalent in the United States as our lifestyles have become unhealthier and the rates of obesity and other causes of cardiovascular disease have increased.

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