If you have heart failure, your heart has a hard time pumping enough blood and oxygen throughout your body. Over 6 million Americans live with heart failure. Black and Hispanic people are the most likely to be diagnosed.
The sooner that you know you have heart failure, the better. An early diagnosis gives doctors more time to find a treatment that can keep your symptoms in check and prevent other health issues.
What Is Heart Failure?
If you have heart failure, your heart might have been damaged or is working harder than it should. This can happen for many reasons.
The same lifestyle factors that make a heart attack or stroke more likely can put you at risk for heart failure. These include:
- Too little exercise
- Being overweight
- A diet high in fat and cholesterol
Certain health problems can also raise your risk for heart failure. Among the most common are:
- High blood pressure
- Heart valve problems
- Coronary artery disease
- Past heart attack
- Heart muscle disease or inflammation
- Heart defects
- Severe lung disease
- Sleep apnea
Why Are Black and Hispanic Adults at Greater Risk for Heart Failure?
If you’re Black or Hispanic, you’re more likely to develop HF than people of other races. Black adults are also more likely to spend time in the hospital because of heart failure symptoms.
The reasons why are complex.
More risk factors. Black and Hispanic adults are more likely to have some of the health problems, like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and past heart attack, that can lead to heart failure.
Health care bias. Studies show that people of color are less likely to receive the medical care they need.
Cultural beliefs. For instance, in some Hispanic communities, women may focus on taking care of others and put their own health last. That may lead them to ignore their symptoms or skip trips to the doctor.
Many Black Americans, on the other hand, don’t trust doctors or the health care system due to a long history of racism and abuses they have faced in medical settings. This may keep them away from doctors.
Other social factors. Many Black and Hispanic people find it harder to get to a doctor’s visit or pay for the cost of health care. Other things that impact health, like access to fresh foods, jobs that pay well, and even clean drinking water are also harder to access for many. Lack of these basic resources can raise risk for many health conditions.
What Are the Benefits of an Early Heart Failure Diagnosis?
The symptoms of heart failure can come on very slowly, and they are easy to mistake for normal signs of aging. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent wheezing
- Coughing up white or pink mucus
- Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, or stomach
- Weight gain
- Feeling tired after resting
- Not wanting to eat
- Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach)
- Feeling confused
- Trouble remembering things
- Racing heart (feeling like your heart is beating too fast)
These symptoms can also look like other health conditions. That makes an early HF diagnosis tricky, but it’s helpful to find out that you have it as soon as you can.
If you have some of these symptoms, tell your doctor about them right away. There’s no cure for HF, but many treatments can keep your symptoms under control. The sooner you get treatment, the better you may do.
Your doctor could suggest:
- Lifestyle changes (like what you eat and how much you exercise)
- Surgery (for instance, to replace faulty heart valves)
- Devices that help your heart pump better
If you get a diagnosis while your symptoms are mild, your doctor will have time to try different treatments to learn which ones provide the best results.
How Can You Protect Your Heart?
Four out of five people don’t know they have heart failure until their symptoms are severe enough to put them in the emergency room. But you can take steps right now to protect your heart. These measures are especially valuable if you have risk factors for heart failure – being Black or Hispanic is one of them.
Get regular checkups. Annual exams give your doctor a chance to track your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Your doctor can also help you make lifestyle changes that lower your risk of heart failure. For instance, they can help you cut back on smoking or get to a healthy weight.
Listen to your body. If you notice any symptoms of heart failure, let your doctor know. Even if they’re mild, it’s a good idea to have them checked out.
Follow through with testing. If your doctor orders special tests to check your heart health, make sure to get them. For instance, your doctor may order lab work or an imaging test to see how well blood pumps in and out of your heart.
Eat well. As much as you can, cut back on salt, cured and processed meats (like deli meats), highly processed grains (like white rice), and alcohol. These can all be hard on your heart. Try to eat a wide variety of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables every day. Their nutrients help keep you healthy.
If you do get an early diagnosis of HF, you’ll play a really important role in your treatment. It will be key that you track how you feel each day and tell your doctor if you notice any changes to your health. lncreased swelling in your legs or ankles, trouble sleeping, rapid weight gain, or a dry, hacking cough are all signs that your doctor will need to adjust your treatment plan.
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