A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Heart failure: Diagnosis at any age

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Heart failure can happen at any age.

Thinking that you’re too young for heart failure is a common misconception. Heart failure can occur at any age but much can be done to improve your heart health if diagnosed.

“Heart failure remains more prevalent in the elderly population, but it can certainly happen at any age,” said Casey Waldvogel, a nurse practitioner at Marshfield Clinic Health System’s Heart Failure Improvement Clinic.

Recent studies have indicated that more young people are being diagnosed with heart failure than those over 50 years of age, Waldvogel said. “This is likely consistent with an increase in sedentary lifestyles and poor diets,” he said. “While, in general, younger individuals are less likely to experience heart failure, if reduction in risk factors is neglected like physical exercise, smoking cessation, reduced alcohol consumption and a healthy diet, this trend will lead to more incidences of heart failure in the younger population.”

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a chronic disease in which the heart is unable to pump or fill enough blood to meet the body’s needs.

“The leading cause of heart failure is ischemic heart disease, idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, valvular disease, COPD, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity,” Waldvogel said.

The Heart Failure Improvement Clinic at Marshfield Clinic Health System works to identify and act quickly to meet your needs and avoid unnecessary complications or hospitalizations. The clinic also develops an individualized treatment plan that works for you.

Symptoms and risks

A person experiencing heart failure may experience shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue, swollen legs, loss of appetite and rapid heartbeat.

“One of the first symptoms patients experiencing heart failure will notice is an increase in their weight,” Waldvogel said. “These individuals may experience a decrease in the ability to do their typical activities without needing to take a break. Experiencing shortness of breath with going to get the mail or bringing in the groceries, for example. The inability to lay flat at night to sleep requires multiple pillows or sleeping upright in a recliner. The individual may notice their feet or abdomen appear to be swollen.”

It is important to note all of your symptoms when seeing your provider.

“These symptoms will be an indicator for a further workup to diagnose heart failure. This is why informing your provider of all your symptoms is essential to care for the patient,” Waldvogel said. “For example, waking up in the middle of the night feeling short of breath. The individual may not find this to be valuable information. Your provider would recognize this as another sign of possible heart failure.”

Heart failure may be caused by a variety of factors, including coronary heart disease, heart valve problems, heart arrhythmia, viruses, stress and other factors like high blood pressure.

Beyond symptoms, diagnosing heart failure typically comes with an echocardiogram for initial testing, blood work and a chest X-ray to identify potential findings consistent with heart failure, Waldvogel said.

Life after heart failure diagnosis

Heart failure is not something that can be cured, however, it can be managed.

“Hearing the diagnosis of heart failure is going to be a gut check for any individual. This is where the Heart Failure Improvement Clinic steps in to help guide your care,” Waldvogel said.

Dietary adjustments such as consuming less salt, losing weight and adding medications are typical treatments for heart failure patients. It is important to stay on task even when you see improvement.

“The goal of the program is to enrich lives and allow for more moments with loved ones,” Waldvogel said.

If you have concerns about your heart health, talk with your provider.

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