February is Heart Month, a time to bring attention to the importance of cardiovascular health and what we can do to reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease. The earliest symptoms of heart failure are often very subtle, but it's dangerous to ignore them.
It's an unfortunate truth that your body slows down in your sixth and seventh decades—climbing a flight of stairs that you once took two at a time can now feel as daunting as scaling Mount Everest. While some degree of vitality loss can be attributed to natural aging, fatigue and breathlessness may signal that your heart is not functioning as well as it should.
FACES of heart failure
Heart failure occurs when something damages the heart muscle or reduces the heart's ability to pump effectively. Most often, the damage stems from coronary artery disease or heart attack. But faulty heart valves, longstanding high blood pressure or genetic disorder may also be to blame. No matter the cause, the failing heart can no longer pump well enough to keep up with the body's demand for oxygen-rich blood.
To help doctors and patients spot a possible combination of heart failure symptoms, the Heart Failure Society of America developed a handy tool using the acronym FACES. It's also helpful to understand what is happening in your body to lead to these symptoms.
F = Fatigue. The heart can't pump enough oxygen-rich blood to meet the needs of body tissues. The body diverts blood away from less vital organs, particularly muscles in the limbs, and sends it to the heart and brain. It leads to a general feeling of tiredness.
A = Activity limitation. People with heart failure often cannot do their normal activities because they become easily tired and short of breath.
C = Congestion. Fluid buildup in the lungs can result in coughing, wheezing, and breathing difficulty.
E = Edema or ankle swelling. As blood flow from the heart slows, blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up, causing fluid to build up in the tissues. The kidneys are less able to dispose of sodium and water, also causing fluid retention in the ankles, legs, thighs and abdomen.
S = Shortness of breath. Blood "backs up" in the pulmonary veins (the vessels that return blood from the lungs to the heart) because the heart can't keep up with the supply. This causes fluid to leak into the lungs. Fluid in the lungs makes it more difficult for used blood to exchange carbon dioxide for fresh oxygen. It may also be harder to breathe when lying down because gravity allows fluid below the lungs to travel up the torso.
Additional symptoms may include an increased heart rate, as the heart attempts to "make up for" the loss in pumping capacity by beating faster. Perhaps lack of appetite or nausea as the blood supply going to the digestive system is significantly reduced. Confusion and impaired thinking may occur, as changing levels of certain substances in the blood are also affected, such as sodium, can cause confusion.
By themselves, any one sign of heart failure may not be cause for alarm. But if you have more than one of these symptoms, even if you haven't been diagnosed with any heart problems, report them to your doctor and ask for an evaluation of your heart.
As soon as a patient feels the symptoms of a heart attack, there may only be a few minutes left to act.
In this small time window, patients must take Aspirin and nitroglycerin. ASA stops platelets from sticking to the side of arteries and reduces blood clotting to maintain blood flow. Nitroglycerin helps treat chest pain by opening the coronary arteries and reducing the heart's workload, reducing its need for oxygen.
However, in many cases, patients don't have either on hand. In a recent study of heart attack patients, not one person had Aspirin on them, and only 11% of men and 20% of women had nitroglycerin pills on hand. That’s where the SmHeart Card can help.
The convenient little card is thin enough to fit in a wallet and houses 4 ASA tablets and three nitroglycerin tablets. SmHeartCard is the only patented and medically proven way to carry both pills you need right away to survive a heart attack.
You pick one up at our pharmacies for yourself or a loved one. To learn more about the SmHeart Card visit https://smheartcard.ca/