Understanding Congestive Heart Failure: They Say He Was a Big Hearted Fellow

Published: 2009-08-29, Last Modified:

Our hearts are very impressive long functioning devices that are constantly beating from before the time of our birth until the last day of our lives. In total our hearts can beat as many as 2.8 billion times without interruption in an 80 year lifespan. In comparison, it is a significant engineering achievement when we are able to create man made devices with such a lifetime of proper operation. Because we have no back up system for redundancy, our hearts are typically built to last.

As one of the most common, debilitating, costly and deadly diseases Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) demonstrates what happens when the heart is forced to operate under harsh conditions. When people develop chronic high blood pressure also called hypertension or develop coronary artery disease (CAD), the heart stretches as it attempts to pump blood into constricted or narrowed arteries. The result is that the heart pumps blood far less effectively and becomes enlarged while the patient feels very fatigued and develops swelling and fluid accumulation in their extremities and sometimes their lungs.

In the US, roughly 1.7% of the population suffers from the condition or . Worldwide, it is expected that almost 30% of the population or 1.56 billion people will have congestive heart failure within the next 15 years. These numbers are staggering to the say the least. For those who develop CHF, the risks of dying within 1 year are 1 in 3 and the risk of dying within 5 years are 2 in 3. These sorts of numbers show how dangerous the condition is.

If we look further at the costs of treating those with CHF, the condition is the second biggest cause of patient days in hospital according to one Canadian study. In the UK, CHF consumes almost 2% of the National Health Service funding and in the US the costs are more than $35 billion dollars annually. This means that on average, every American citizen is paying $115 annually to treat what is, for the most part, a preventable condition.

So what are the reasons that people develop CHF? Two very important contributors are those mentioned above, coronary artery disease and hypertension. Developing coronary heart disease usually results from being obese or overweight, smoking, eating a high-fat diet and not exercising enough. Hypertension or high blood pressure does have a genetic factor but is usually the result of obesity, stress, excessive salt intake and lack of exercise. As can be seen, a common contributor to developing congestive heart failure is obesity and lack of exercise.

To better understand the risks of obesity in congestive heart failure, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) analyzed the BMI or body mass index of patients over a 7 year period. The BMI is a formula that uses a person’s height and weight to calculate a value. A person is considered overweight when their BMI exceeds 25. What the researchers found was that in men, for every single point increase in the BMI over 25, the risks of developing congestive heart failure increased by 4% regardless of waist size. In simple terms, this means that the more overweight a person is, the higher risk they have of developing CHF.

The other major contributing factor to both coronary artery disease and hypertension, lack of exercise, has been studied to death and the benefits of exercise to promoting general health are well known. However, for those with CHF, the benefits of exercise were not known. In general, due to their weakened state, those with CHF are largely inactive. Based on research from Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI) such inactivity is not in the patient’s best interests.

From the research findings, regular exercise in the form of 40 minutes of walking, 5 days a week resulted in a 15% reduction in the risk of dying and 11% reduction in the risk of hospitalization. While these are not amazing numbers, they are good considering the seriousness of the condition and the numbers of people that will die from it.

While describing someone as having a “big heart” is often considered complimentary, the more physical condition of having an enlarged heart from congestive heart failure is definitely nothing to be happy about. With many lifestyle factors contributing to this very dangerous and debilitating condition and an increasing numbers of people affected, the need to address this epidemic and pandemic situation is becoming very important. In this case, however, we don’t need researchers to find a cure, we need to take interest in our own health and well-being for that is the only way to beat this problem.

That being said, in another article, I will look at what some of the latest research treatments are for those who inevitably develop the condition.

Do you have family members at risk of CHF or are you concerned for yourself? Are you making efforts to reduce your risk?

Related Links

http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=34
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12704492
http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/295/24/2859
http://www.chfn.ca/facts-about-chf-in-canada
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12034163
http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/117/4/e25
http://www.cdc.gov/DHDSP/library/Action_Plan/pdfs/action_plan_short.pdf
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9894438
http://www.bidmc.org/News/InResearch/2009/April/WaistSizePredictorofHeartFailure.aspx
http://www.dukehealth.org/HealthLibrary/News/exercise_is_safe_improves_outcomes_for_patients_with_heart_failure2

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