Being diagnosed with a chronic disease is markedly different than being diagnosed with an acute illness. What do I mean by this?
An acute illness, such as pneumonia, appendicitis, a kidney stone, or a broken leg, has a fairly short duration of symptoms and is typically resolved within days to weeks. Certainly, it has the potential to evolve into a chronic, long-term issue. But for the most part, you get the news and a prognosis from the doctor, receive treatment, and eventually recover with no need for further medical care. The process of recovering from an acute illness has a period of emotional challenge, but once you are feeling better, often it’s possible to put it out of your mind.
Not so with a chronic disease, which never leaves you — even if you manage it well. The psychological challenge of “keeping up” with the disease is probably the biggest issue to face when receiving news that you have a chronic disease. A good example of a chronic disease that can be psychologically challenging is Congestive Heart Failure.
What Is Congestive Heart Failure?
The words alone are scary; however, the name is just a clinical term to describe poor functioning of the heart’s mechanics. Or, as the American College of Cardiology puts it, “Your heart isn’t pumping as well as it should.”
Your heart is the muscle that pushes blood through your body. Now, think of the arteries as the pipes that feed that blood to the organs. When we say the heart is “failing,” we mean the heart has trouble pumping blood through the pipes to sufficiently circulate it throughout your body. All of our organs need nutrients like oxygen and electrolytes to function. So, if the heart is failing, many other organs are affected.
Typical symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure are:
- Shortness of breath with simple tasks
- Extreme weakness
- Leg swelling
What Causes Congestive Heart Failure and How Is It Treated?
Sometimes an acute, dramatic event, such as a blocked artery or heart attack, causes Congestive Heart Failure. But more often it occurs gradually because of a combination of factors that might include elevated blood pressure, carrying too much weight, diabetes, kidney problems, or drinking too much alcohol.
Congestive Heart Failure is a very common diagnosis, affecting about 5.7 million Americans a year, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. It affects men and women, old and young, and is the leading cause of hospitalization for people ages 65 and older. It is estimated that Congestive Heart Failure leads to more than $30 billion in medical costs each year.
Luckily Congestive Heart Failure is one of the chronic conditions that medical researchers know a LOT about. As a result, our providers (both primary care physicians and cardiologists) feel very comfortable treating it. Cardiology experts update recommendations each year and describe an array of medications, lifestyle modifications, and dietary changes that can help patients return to a normal life. That’s correct — normal life! It is possible to recover quite well from Congestive Heart Failure if you stick with the regimen your doctor prescribes.
How Can I Live Healthy with Congestive Heart Failure?
This is where the challenging part of managing a chronic condition comes in. Your doctor will prescribe medications, often at least two, that you will need to take on a regular basis. But congestive heart failure is not a disease where simply taking your medication will do the trick. He or she will also talk to you about changes you absolutely must make to your daily routine.
Making lifestyle modifications can be very difficult, primarily because it involves breaking lifelong habits — which is difficult for anyone to do. Remember, though, that the longer you stick with a new lifestyle change, the easier it becomes. Scientists tell us that it takes at least three to six months to break a habit.
What are some of these lifestyle modifications patients who are managing Congestive Heart Failure need to make? Here are 11 to consider:
- Stop smoking. Smoking damages your blood vessels, raises your blood pressure, and forces your weakened heart to pump harder.
- Discuss weight monitoring with your doctor. Weighing yourself is one way to monitor extra fluid in your body. Talk with your doctor about how often you should weigh yourself.
- Check your legs, ankles, and feet for swelling daily. Let your doctor know when swelling has changed.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. This means lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products.
- Restrict sodium. This is a change that many people find quite challenging, but you can get used to a low-salt diet. Eating too much salt causes fluid retention, which makes your weakened heart work harder. Your doctor can give you specific information on how much salt you should have.
- Limit saturated and trans fats in your diet. These harmful fats increase your risk for further heart disease.
- Limit alcohol and fluids. Talk to your doctor for tips on both of these, depending on how severe your condition is.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Even losing a small amount of weight can help, so the effort is worth it!
- Consider getting vaccinations. Getting annual influenza and pneumonia vaccines is important to avoid complications that come from these illnesses.
- Be active. Moderate aerobic exercise keeps the rest of your body fit, which limits the demand put on the heart. Before you start any exercise program, however, speak with your doctor. And if you are a Keystone 65 HMO or Personal Choice 65SM PPO member, don’t forget to take advantage of your SilverSneakers® fitness benefit. Among other perks, SilverSneakers provides you with free access to thousands of fitness locations and group classes led by certified instructors.
- Reduce stress. Simply put, stress causes your heart rate to rise, and that’s something we like to avoid inCongestive Heart Failure.
Need Help Managing Congestive Heart Failure? Call Us!
Wow — 11 new tasks and lifestyle changes to think about! To some, it may be overwhelming to see a list of recommendations from your doctor and not know where to start. At Independence Blue Cross, we understand how difficult this can be. If you need some extra help figuring out how to manage yourCongestive Heart Failure, remember that help is just a phone call away! Members can call a Registered Nurse Health Coach 24/7 at 1-800-ASK-BLUE (1-800-275-2583).
Are Your Doctors Communicating?
And one last item. Ask your primary care physician and cardiologist if they are talking to each other. Communication between your doctors about patient goals and treatments is critical for your health. We at Independence Blue Cross value communication so much, in fact, that we recently entered into a new provider partnership with Dedicated Senior Medical Centers, who will open four new centers in Philadelphia County this summer. One of the hallmarks of their innovative centers is that primary care physicians and specialists work together in the same office so communication can be seamless.