I thought we would start out with information to help you better understand what it means to have heart failure. Essentially, heart failure is a syndrome that occurs when the heart is either stiff, or weak. When either condition is present, symptoms develop that include fluid retention, shortness of breath, cough, activity intolerance and/or fatigue. Heart failure is diagnosed with imaging tests of the heart.
The easiest test to diagnose heart failure is an echocardiogram, or basically an ultrasound of the heart. This “echo” can show if the heart muscle is weak or stiff and can give us other important information about the heart.
Heart failure is treated first with medications (diuretics) to reduce fluid retention. Other medications are important to lessen the work load of the heart. If the heart is weak- we use medications known to improve symptoms, improve the heart’s function, and improve survival. These medications are called ACE inhibitors (some examples are lisinopril, enalapril), angiotensin receptor blockers or ARB’s (examples include losartan, candesartan), beta blockers (examples include metolprolol succinate and carvedilol), and aldosterone blockers (examples are spironolactone or eplerenone). When the heart is stiff, we use diuretics to control fluid retention, and then treat other conditions that may be present like high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat).
Medications are only part of the treatment of heart failure. Patients need to understand the disease so they can adjust their lifestyle. Across our Intermountain Hospitals and clinics, we use an acronym called
MAWDS,to teach patients about heart failure:
Medications- take them as directed,
Activity- stay as active as you can,
Weight- weigh daily to monitor for fluid retention,
Diet- limit salt and fluid, and
Symptoms- recognize when symptoms worsen.
By following MAWDS and having a medication treatment plan with your healthcare team, you are in the best position possible to feel as good as possible and to live well with heart failure. See our website for more information about using MAWDS at www.intermountainhealthcare.org/heartfailure.