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Many Adults Have Mild Heart Failure

Lifestyle Changes Help Prevent Heart Damage, Death
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WebMD Health News

Jan. 7, 2003 -- Nearly one-quarter of adults over age 45 have a type of heart failure that doctors have only recently begun to understand, says a new study.

Heart failure develops over several years, as the heart gradually loses its ability to pump blood efficiently through the body. Usually, the loss in pumping action is a symptom of an underlying problem like hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, or damaged heart muscle.

Researchers looked at more than 2,000 randomly selected people aged 45 or older and tested them for heart failure. The researchers found a type of heart failure called diastolic heart failure in about 1 in 4 people -- the people usually had no symptoms of heart failure, such as shortness of breath or chest pain.

Most people aren't aware that there are two types of heart failure, says lead researcher Margaret Redfield, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic Heart Failure Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Her study appears in the Jan. 8 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Many people think of heart failure as being due to a large, weakly pumping heart," Redfield explains in a news release. This is called systolic heart failure, when the amount of blood that the heart pumps per beat is less than 50%, she says. This type of heart failure was seen in 6% of the study participants and was more often associated with heart failure symptoms.

However, her study shows that in 1 in 4 people, pumping function is normal, but the heart does not relax and therefore cannot fill with blood properly. This is diastolic heart failure, she says.

In fact, people in the study with diastolic heart problems were eight to 10 times more likely to die within five years, reports Redfield.

High blood pressure and high cholesterol are known risk factors for heart failure and can be modified through changes in diet, physical activity, and medication.

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