Every February, we celebrate American Heart Month. The American Heart Association has been promoting awareness, research and fundraising for heart health in February since 1947. Heart disease, which includes an array of heart conditions, is the leading cause of death for both men and women in America. Currently, an estimated 5.7 million Americans are coping with heart failure. And if you’re giving home care in San Diego to a loved one with congestive heart failure (CHF), you know that it’s the number one reason that people aged 65 and over go to the hospital. Providers of San Diego home care and their loved ones need to know the risks, signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure to have the best odds of prevention.

Heart failure develops when the heart is damaged by disease, deterioration, or unhealthy behaviors. Congestive heart failure occurs when the walls of the ventricles of the heart become thin and weak. First, the heart can’t supply enough blood and oxygen to the other organs in the body. Blood remains in the heart, causing fluid retention, because insufficient blood is pumping through the body to push out excess fluids. The rest of the body becomes ‘congested’ with excess fluid. The kidneys retain water and salt, and fluid and blood collect in the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen and lungs. The kidneys start having trouble balancing water and sodium throughout the body. The fluid collecting where it shouldn’t be puts pressure on internal organs. Risk factors for congestive heart failure include heart attacks, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption.

If you’re providing or receiving elderly in home care, then knowing the signs and symptoms of CHF is crucial for heart health, activity levels, and independence. Congestive heart failure can be managed and treated in its four stages of severity, but the best prevention is avoiding damage to the heart before it happens. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of congestive heart failure are:

  • “Shortness of breath (dyspnea) when you exert yourself or when you lie down
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Swelling (edema) in your legs, ankles and feet
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged phlegm
  • Increased need to urinate at night
  • Swelling of your abdomen (ascites)
  • Very rapid weight gain from fluid retention
  • Lack of appetite and nausea
  • Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness
  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus”

If you suspect that your loved one has one or more of these symptoms, then tracking their incidence and severity is a great place to start. The most important step is to consult a doctor. While one symptom might not be cause for concern, multiple symptoms need to be evaluated. There are four stages of CHF, with corresponding levels of severity, impact and treatment. According to the Medical News Today website, the four stages are:

  • “Stage 1 or pre-CHF: People with pre-CHF may have disorders that affect the heart, or doctors may have noticed a weakness in their heart that has not yet caused any symptoms.
  • Stage 2: People with stage 2 CHF may have minor symptoms but are still otherwise healthy. People with stage 2 CHF often have existing heart complications but lack definitive symptoms of heart failure. Doctors may recommend that these people reduce their workload and make lifestyle changes.
  • Stage 3: People with stage 3 CHF may experience symptoms regularly and may not be able to do their regular tasks, especially if they have other health conditions.
  • Stage 4 or late-stage CHF: A person with stage 4 CHF may have severe or debilitating symptoms throughout the day, even while at rest. Late-stage CHF often requires extensive medical and surgical treatment to manage.”

Heart failure is responsible more than ten percent of American deaths each year, most commonly affecting African-Americans, men and those over age 65. The good news is that when CHF is detected and addressed early enough, there are treatment options available. Simple changes like limiting salt intake, exercising regularly, and getting annual heart health check-ups can have a big impact. Medication and even surgery can alleviate symptoms in the later stages of the disease. Seniors who receive in home care in San Diego and their caregivers can treat and manage congestive heart failure if they tackle it early enough.