Heart failure in older people
What is heart failure?
Having heart failure means that, for some reason, your heart is not pumping blood around the body as well as it used to
The most common reason is that your heart muscle has been damaged, for example, after a heart attack
It can be very frightening to hear that you, or a person close to you, has heart failure
For many people, heart failure can be a debilitating condition where normal everyday tasks, such as having a shower or bath, doing the shopping, or simply playing with the children, takes enormous energy and leaves them breathless and exhausted
That’s because when heart muscle is damaged, it cannot heal itself. So once your heart ‘breaks’, it stays that way
What causes heart failure?
There are lots of reasons why you might be diagnosed with heart failure. It can be sudden, or it can happen slowly over months, or even years. Some causes of heart failure are:
- a heart attack
- high blood pressure
- problems with the valves in your heart
- cardiomyopathies – diseases of the heart muscle
- too much alcohol
- congenital conditions, that is ones you are born with
How will heart failure affect me?
Not everyone experiences the same symptoms and everyone copes in different ways
You might feel out of breath if you are physically active, or for some people even when they are at rest
You may also have swollen feet and ankles and feel very tired. You might have to think about how you will cope with work, or if you need to change your job
Everyone is different so it’s important to speak to your GP and your heart failure nurse about what is best for you
How is heart failure diagnosed and treated?
Your doctor will ask you questions about your medical history and talk to you about what has caused your heart failure
The reason for your condition will make a difference to how your symptoms are controlled
You may need to have tests, which include blood tests, an electrocardiogram (ECG) and an echocardiogram
While there isn’t a cure for heart failure at the moment, the treatment to control symptoms has improved dramatically.
With treatment and the right medicines, many people live full and active lives.
Your doctor will prescribe drugs that will help control your blood pressure and help the pumping action of your heart
They will also give you advice about making changes to your lifestyle, such as cutting down on salt, staying active and stopping smoking, which will help you do all the things that you enjoy, improve your condition and live a normal life
Heart support groups are available at www.bhf.org.uk