Summer 2002
Ask the Nurse: Can CHF Be Prevented?

Diane Rydzy, RN I have a family history of heart disease — including CHF (congestive heart failure). I don't have any symptoms yet — what can I do to avoid getting CHF myself?

Diane Rydzy, RN, of the Heart Institute at Bridgeport Hospital, replies:

Doctors in Bridgeport Hospital's Heart Institute describe CHF as a condition that occurs when the heart muscle becomes too weak to pump enough blood to meet your body's needs—most often because of high blood pressure. Your heart tries to make up for its weakness by getting bigger and pumping faster. After a while this doesn't work anymore. Then the blood backs up in the veins that lead to the heart, and eventually your lungs and tissues begin to fill with excess fluid. You may become short of breath and tired, and develop a cough. Or your feet, ankles, and legs may swell with excess fluid. (This is called edema.) You may gain weight, from excess fluid in your tissues.

The best way to prevent CHF—and any other form of heart disease—is to make some important lifestyle changes.

  • Start with a thorough physical examination to find out if you have any signs of heart disease.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • If you're a couch potato, get up and start an exercise program. (Make sure your physician OKs your exercise plans.)
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly.
  • Eat sensibly. Avoid fats, especially saturated fat (read food labels!) and hide your salt shaker.
  • Limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks or less per day.
  • Weigh yourself at the same time every day, before eating or drinking and after urinating, to keep an eye out for fluid buildup. A gain of two or more pounds a day over a two-day period should alert you to notify your doctor.

Should signs of congestive heart failure appear, tell your doctor immediately. There are medications and other treatments that can slow the progress of the disease.

You are wise to begin learning about heart disease and congestive heart failure now, before you show any signs. By making these wise lifestyle decisions, you may be able to prevent this disease, which in its later stages can become life-threatening.

To learn more about congestive heart failure, and other types of heart disease, go to www.bridgeporthospital.com and click on the Heart Institute. For a free brochure on the Heart Institute, fill in the coupon on page 8.

Bridgeport Hospital offers QuitSmartTM, a program proven to help smokers quit. For information, call 888-357-2396.