Ladies, Let’s Chat about Heart Failure
We know about heart attacks and cardiac arrest, but what is heart failure?
Her Heart is proud to be one of many organisations in The Global Heart Hub – an alliance of heart patient organisations – aiming to create a unified global voice for those living with or affected by heart disease.
May 2019 marks the start of a worldwide campaign “Red Flag on Heart Failure” to highlight the danger signs and symptoms of heart failure.
What is heart failure?
Despite the name, Heart Failure is not a condition where your heart stops; Heart Failure is a condition which occurs when your heart cannot effectively pump blood around your body. One of the main reasons why this happens is that your heart has worked extra hard and the heart muscle itself has become more thick and enlarged, causing it to not squeeze effectively.
When your heart cannot pump effectively, hormones in your body as well as your nervous system try to compensate, leading to high blood pressure, a faster heartbeat as well as retaining extra salt and fluid. This extra fluid can build up in your lungs, feet, legs, arms and abdomen.
Women can experience different symptoms of Heart Failure to men; we are more likely to be short of breath, have swelling and fluid in our legs and feet, as well as having a poorer tolerance for exercise.
The following symptoms are also a sign of heart failure:
By themselves, any one symptom of heart failure may not be cause for alarm. But if you have one or more symptoms, even if you haven’t been diagnosed with any heart problems, visit your GP and ask the question, “Could I have heart failure?”.
What causes heart failure?
In women, we are more likely to experience our Heart Failure after menopause. Some common causes which can lead to Heart Failure in this later stage of life include Diabetes, Heart Valve conditions, Coronary Artery Disease as well as Hypertension. Some other causes which are independent of these include genetics, pregnancy as well as stress-induced Heart Failure.
Comparing Heart Failure in Men vs Women
There are two types of Heart Failure which tend to affect women more than men; Peripartum Cardiomyopathy and Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy. Peripartum Cardiomyopathy occurs at late-stages pregnancy and in the early post-partum (after birth) period if there are no other causes for heart failure found. Also known as “Broken-Heart Syndrome”, Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy is a condition where your heart muscle becomes temporarily weakened or stunned and then cannot pump blood around the body effectively, with this condition more likely to affect older women.
Overall, women are considered more likely than men to have a worse quality of life when suffering from Heart Failure, including being more likely to develop depression. As discussed earlier, we also are more likely to suffer from symptoms such as fluid accumulation in the body. Furthermore, we are less likely to be recommended for life-saving treatments and therapies to help control our Heart Failure.
It isn’t all bad news though! Women tend to develop Heart Failure at a later age than men, plus we are more likely to live longer with Heart Failure than men.
Diagnosed with Heart Failure, now what?
Heart Failure will be easier to manage if you follow the advice of your doctors, nurses and other health professionals. At Her Heart, we’ve put together some handy tips for women to think about when managing their Heart Failure:
- Monitor your weight daily, typically before breakfast and using the same scales; it is recommended that if there is a 2kg change over 2 days that you speak to your doctor immediately.
- Watch your fluid intake by sticking to the limit as directed by your doctor or nurse. A good idea could be measuring the amount of fluid that fits in a jug as a guide for the amount you drink in a day. If you’re thirsty but close to your fluid limit, you could suck on ice chips or snack on frozen fruits such as grapes.
- Take your medications as per the instructions from your doctor and pharmacist. If you’re having trouble remembering what to take and when, you could always set an alarm, have them sitting next to your bedside or with your toothbrush, plus your pharmacist could even make them into a pack for you so that it’s easier to remember which ones and when.
Eat a reduced-salt diet: aim to eat fresh, healthy foods and limit your consumption of takeaway foods and anything processed. This even includes tins of soup, cold meats and many pre-packaged bread products. The Baker Institute have made a handy fact sheet to help you choose low-salt foods. (click here)
- Keep an eye on your symptoms just in case you notice anything different than usual. It could be handy to pop these down in a diary along with your daily weight.
- Attend all appointments with your doctors, nurses and other health staff to keep them updated on your progress, as well as discussing important changes such as medication management.
- Conserve your energy so that you can still complete daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, having a shower etc. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, take rest breaks when needed and plan your day ahead.
Start the heart health conversation
One of the best things a woman can do to plan for their future is to visit their GP and start a heart health conversation. We also encourage women to have heart-to-heart chats with their loved ones to raise awareness of heart disease and encouraging them to make lifestyle changes key to reduce the risk of heart failure.
The saying “a healthy heart can help you live a long and happy life” has never been more true.
Helpful Resources on Heart Failure
Her Heart is on a mission to begin the conversation as far and wide as possible about the dangers of heart disease. It is our goal, by 2025, to decrease the risk of heart disease in women by 50%. This is definitely achievable, but the only way we can do this is to urge women to speak up if something doesn’t feel right, and seek medical attention if you’re worried.