If you or a member of your family is among the 5 million Americans who suffer from heart failure, you may already know how important it is to take all prescribed medication. (This is not always easy because it can mean taking 15 to 20 drugs and working with multiple health-care professionals).
You already know the importance of cutting back on salt, staying physically active, not smoking, and if weight is an issue, losing the extra pounds.
Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump blood effectively to the lungs or the rest of the body.
This can be because the person has developed a weakened heart muscle or because the heart muscle has thickened or stiffened, making it difficult to fill the heart and backing up blood into the lungs.
With heart failure, the weakened heart pumps less blood than usual, causing the kidneys and adrenal glands to produce chemicals that help the body to hold onto salt and water.
But even if you or your family member is a model patient, you still need to watch for new or recurrent signs and symptoms of heart failure. And you need to alert the doctor at once if trouble seems to be brewing.
"Heart failure is a progressive condition," says Gregg C. Fonarow, MD, professor of medicine at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and director of the Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center in Los Angeles. "Patients may be stable for weeks or months or years and then have a worsening of symptoms. It can be very subtle. That's why there's a need for close follow-up."
Here are eight signs to watch out for. Call your doctor if you or a family member with heart failure experiences any of them.
Even in the absence of specific symptoms you can point to, experts say it's prudent to alert the doctor if you or a family member with heart failure begins to feel ill at ease.
"Heart failure is very heterogeneous, and it's different for each patient," says Clyde W. Yancy, MD, medical director of the Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas and president of the American Heart Association.
"You know what heart failure felt like before. If something isn't feeling right to you now, don't wait to see if it will pass. Call someone."
2. Unusual Fatigue
Feeling unusually tired or listless -- during exercise or while going about daily activities -- might be evidence that you or your family member's condition has taken a turn for the worse. "If you had been able to walk two blocks without becoming winded but now find you can now walk only one block, that can be worrisome," says Fonarow.
"You don't get a medal for bravery" for putting up with fatigue, Yancy adds. "Pick up the phone and call the doctor."