Heart failure can arise in a number of ways. Heart attack, high blood pressure and heart disease can all lead to heart failure. In short, any damage to your heart can disrupt its normal functioning.
However, despite its name, heart failure does not mean that the heart has stopped working. Rather, the heart is less efficient at pumping blood and oxygen to the body, resulting in symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath and difficulty with everyday activities.
We’re here to let you know that a heart failure diagnosis is not a death sentence! You can enjoy a happy and healthy life despite your condition. Along with some key lifestyle changes, a positive mindset and perseverance will help you through this journey.
Accepting Your Heart Failure Diagnosis
It’s important to know the signs of heart failure, speak with your doctor, and stay on top of your medication regimen and heart-healthy lifestyle changes.
For Wayne Brewer, professor and director of research at the School of Physical Therapy, Texas Woman’s University, adapting to this new lifestyle is just part of the process. “I’ve accepted the diagnosis, I’ve accepted the changes that I’ve had to make,” he said in patient interviews with the Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center.
Important lifestyle changes that promote heart health include eating a balanced low-sodium diet, maintaining your medication regimen and getting regular exercise.
“I’ve sort of changed my goal with exercise,” said Brewer. “Before, it was to go out and do as much as I can and compete … Now it’s more for enjoyment, for health, and for maintaining my ability to do the things that I really like to do.”
It’s also important to monitor your symptoms and to call your doctor as soon as you notice new or worsening symptoms.
“I pay attention to my symptoms. If I feel a little fatigued on certain days, I may refrain from doing excess activity and plan to pace myself a little better,” said Brewer.
Race and Risk Factors
Risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking and lack of exercise can increase the risk of heart failure.
“Unfortunately, many of the risk factors that predispose patients to developing heart disease and heart failure are more common in Black patients,” says Dr. Bryan Smith, advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologist at UChicago Medicine.
“For example, Black patients are more likely to have high blood pressure, and it is often more advanced and diagnosed at an earlier age than other groups. Because of higher rates of other cardiovascular risk factors such as diabetes, smoking, obesity, physical inactivity and high blood pressure, Black patients endure a greater burden of heart disease and heart failure,” Dr. Smith says.
“The question becomes: Why? It is a hard question to answer,” Dr. Joshua J. Joseph, assistant professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at Ohio State College of Medicine, told Cardiology Today.
“We think it is partially due to mistrust of the healthcare system. It is partially due to the social determinants of health—socioeconomic status and how that influences health over time. Racism, especially structural racism, is a persistent source of stress, drives mistrust and social determinants of health and is associated with lower Life’s Simple 7,” Dr. Joseph says.
Faith and Perseverance
Brewer, who did not present traditional heart failure risk factors like diabetes and high blood pressure, says the biggest challenge has been getting people to “understand that not all heart disease is necessarily due to lifestyle factors.”
“I think a lot of people assign a certain degree of responsibility to individuals, assuming that they do certain things [that cause heart failure],” he said. “In many cases that’s true, but for me, I didn’t have the traditional risk factors … that would have led to that.”
Brewer has found that a positive outlook and not getting caught up in the “small stuff” is really what it boils down to. He said, “I think we get caught in all the minutiae of the negativity and stuff like that. There’s a lot of great things happening all around you. You’ve just got to look at it … That changed how I look at things.”
Research has shown that an optimistic mindset can positively impact heart failure recovery, and heart health in general.
“I think the key thing is, we have to have faith and perseverance with this [condition],” said Brewer. “I know this is something I’m going to live with for the rest of my life … I know there’s going to be some days that are better than others. I think it’s all about keeping things in perspective … I really just try to do the best I can to live the healthiest life that’s possible.”
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