Reagan lived a long and healthy life and by most accounts was a relatively fit person through her elderly years. Her reported cause of death is something that affects people of many ages and fitness levels.
Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart fails to pump efficiently across the body causing fatigue and other symptoms, says Dr. Saima Husain of Intermountain McKay-Dee Cardiology.
“The heart is a pump,” says Husain. “It’s a very efficient pump and when it stops working as a pump that is the condition known as congestive heart failure.”
“People with congestive heart failure may have symptoms of congestion, swelling in their legs, or they cannot breathe or lay flat. It is because of this congestion that the heart begins to fail as a pump.”
There are two main types of congestive heart failure, systolic and diastolic. Husain says diagnosis of type is determined by the manner in which the heart fails as a pump.
“When the heart pumps it should squeeze well and eject blood to supply to the body, but it should also fill with blood,” she says. “If it is not squeezing well, this is heart failure with reduced injection fraction or systolic heart failure. When the heart is unable to fill with blood properly that is heart failure with preserve injection fraction or diastolic heart failure.”
Husain says systolic heart failure can develop as we age and the muscles in the heart stiffen.
“If you imagine blowing air into a balloon,” she says. “If the balloon is tight and you try to blow it up, the air remains in your mouth. Systolic heart failure is similar except that instead of air it is blood flow. All the blood is getting backed up in the lungs and vessels causing shortness of breath.”
While both kinds of congestive heart failure are serious, Husain says systolic heart failure is easier to treat than diastolic heart failure.
“When the heart is not clapping well to release blood that is systolic heart failure, we have great medications and procedures for this type of heart failure. We can use advanced therapies and help get the heart clapping and pumping again. With diastolic heart failure we don’t have as many treatments.”
Husain says treatment for diastolic heart failure is more of a physical act as opposed to a medical treatment.
“We try to treat anything that is aggravating the heart, whether it is a condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure. If we can clear blockages it can help the heart to pump properly.”
“So instead of medication that can help the heart pump better such as in the case of systolic heart failure, with diastolic heart failure we treat conditions that can make the heart stiff.”
Husain says congestive heart failure can be a genetic disorder, but action can be taken to avoid diagnosis.
“Preventive measures are keeping blood pressure under control, getting an annual physical and if you do have heart problems in the family, be watchful for symptoms of cardiac arrest or congestive heart failure. Exercise is of course very important. Even patients with congestive heart failure can exercise and that is good for them.”
Congestive heart failure is a critical condition, but it can be managed and treated if diagnosed. As is the case with many things, prevention is the best form of medicine. A healthy lifestyle and daily exercise can help prevent congestive heart failure and keep many other heart ailments at bay.RELATED: Stress and Heart Disease