Smart tips for avoiding congestive heart failure

Heart failure is one of the fastest-growing heart conditions in the world, thanks to everything from the obesity epidemic and rising rates of high blood pressure to the fact that more people are surviving heart attacks and facing life with damaged tickers. Here are some tips to help you avoid congestive heart failure.

Smart tips for avoiding congestive heart failure

A quick introduction to congestive heart failure

When your heart is too weak or too stiff to pump enough blood to the organs and tissues in your body, your lungs can fill with fluid, your kidneys can fail and you become very, very tired.

  • The condition kills 80 percent of men and 65 percent of women within six years of a diagnosis.

Exercise and follow a heart-healthy diet

If you think heart failure happens only to other people, consider this statistic: your odds of developing it after age 45 are one in five. The biggest contributors are high blood pressure and heart attacks.

  • Your best move right now is to go for a brisk walk.
  • At your next meal, load your plate with fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Simply eating a whole-grain breakfast cereal every morning lowers your risk by 30 percent.

Maintain a healthy weight

Every 2.2 to 4.5 kilograms (five to ten pounds) you gain — whatever it takes to raise your body mass index (BMI) one point — increases a woman's risk for heart failure by seven percent and a man's by five percent.

  • Being obese, with a BMI of 30 or higher, doubles your odds. Extra kilos hurt your heart by raising your risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. They also put a strain on your heart that can damage the muscle.

Tame high blood pressure

Ninety percent of people who have heart failure had high blood pressure first. When your pressure is high, your heart has to pump harder to force blood through the miles of blood vessels in your body. Over time, this can make the chambers of your heart grow "muscle-bound," a condition called left ventricular hypertrophy that interferes with the heart's pumping ability.

  • A 10-point drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number) can cut your risk of heart failure by 50 percent.
  • If you need medication, ask about a diuretic. Studies show these drugs cut heart failure risk more than other, more expensive drugs such as alpha-blockers and calcium channel blockers.

Ask about ACE inhibitors after a heart attack

About one in four men and half of all women who survive a heart attack will be disabled by heart failure within six years.

  • Drugs called ACE inhibitors reduce that likelihood. In one study, an ACE inhibitor called ramipril cut heart failure risk by 23 percent in 9,000 high-risk women and men, many of whom had had heart attacks.
  • These drugs ease the strain on the heart by relaxing blood vessel walls and lowering blood pressure

Gain good blood sugar control if you have diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes, your risk of heart failure is five times higher than normal if you're a woman and nearly four times higher than normal if you're a man.

  • Since people with diabetes often have coronary artery disease or high blood pressure or have even had silent heart attacks, your doctor may prescribe medications to help guard your ticker.
  • But don't overlook the power of blood sugar control. In one study, people with diabetes who kept their blood sugar within a healthy range were half as likely to develop heart failure as those whose blood sugar remained high.

Small changes can make a big difference. Keep these tips in mind and adopt a healthier lifestyle to reduce your risk of congestive heart failure.

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