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Heart Healthy: How to Spot the Warning Signs of Heart Failure and Know When to Seek Care

This month, love is in the air thanks to Valentine’s Day. However, candy hearts aren’t the only ones you should be focused on. February 12-20 is Heart Failure Awareness Week, giving us all an opportunity to reflect on how we can take care of our most important organ and how to spot the warning signs of heart failure.

This year, the Heart Failure Society of America is focusing on the theme of “Function Not Failure” for its national campaign.

As such, it’s the perfect time to look at the warning signs and symptoms of heart failure as well as when you should seek care. By getting treatment promptly, heart failure and its symptoms can often be managed with a combination of medical treatment and lifestyle changes. However, knowing when to seek care is the first step.

Causes of Heart Failure

Unlike a heart attack, heart failure typically comes on slowly over the course of several months or even years. It is usually the result of poor lifestyle choices and comorbidities like diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease.

Despite its name, heart failure doesn’t mean your heart has stopped functioning. Instead, it is simply not able to pump blood throughout your body in the way it should. This leads to a variety of negative symptoms, which we’ll look at shortly.

Heart failure can affect either side of the heart or both. Generally, the side that is most affected dictates which symptoms you’ll have. However, heart failure can start on one side (usually the left) and then start to affect the other later.

Risk Factors for Heart Failure

As noted, heart failure doesn’t typically occur overnight. Instead, most people develop heart failure over the course of several years or months. In that time, many warning signs may present themselves.

For instance, high blood pressure or irregular heartbeats are often a sign of your heart working harder than it should be. Likewise, patients with a condition like diabetes or coronary artery disease are also more susceptible to heart failure. That’s because components of their other condition, like the narrowing of your body’s vessels caused by coronary artery disease, put increased pressure on the heart and wear it down over time.

Other warning signs for heart failure include poor lifestyle factors like smoking, drinking alcohol heavily, or being obese.

What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Failure?

Listening to your body is key to managing any health condition. However, it is especially important for those who are (or may be) dealing with heart failure.

Since most cases of heart failure develop over time, the body has many warning signs that come during the earlier stages.

For instance, you may feel dizzy, lightheaded, or notice that you are more fatigued than usual during your daily activities. You may also find that you’ve quickly gained 2-3 pounds since the previous day–or more than five pounds in a week. This is a sign that your body is retaining fluids and that your heart is likely working harder to pump blood. Meanwhile, you may experience mild chest pain throughout the day.

Many people with heart failure also report difficulty sleeping at night, especially while laying in bed. You may feel the urge to prop yourself up with extra pillows or even sleep sitting up in a chair to feel more comfortable. This, along with increased difficulty breathing, are major warning signs of heart failure.

How to Prevent Heart Failure

The most important thing anyone can do to help prevent heart failure is to decrease your risk factors. Although things like genetics and past medical history are out of your control, making healthy lifestyle changes can have a massive positive impact.

Choosing to give up smoking, alcohol, and a high-fat, high-carb diet can do wonders for the heart (and the rest of the body). Meanwhile, engaging in regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can also keep the heart in strong working shape.

When to Seek Care for Heart Failure

Many people experiencing the signs and symptoms of heart failure have not been diagnosed with it at the time. Regardless of whether you have been diagnosed or not, listening to your body should dictate when it’s time to seek care.

For instance, you should seek prompt (but not necessarily emergent) care if you:

  • Are feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Have noticed a rapid increase in weight
  • Are having mild difficulty breathing that improves with rest

If you’re experiencing the following symptoms, you should seek care at the Emergency Room or call 911 immediately:

  • Passing out or fainting
  • Severe difficulty breathing that doesn’t improve with rest
  • New chest pain

Velocity Urgent Care Has Your Back

Sadly, preventing all cases of heart failure isn’t possible. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of heart failure or showing warning signs, Velocity Urgent Care is here to help.

Our team of friendly, board-certified providers will perform a thorough exam to determine the casue of your symptoms. From there, we can prescribe medications and develop a plan of care. If you need more intense treatment or follow-up care, we can also refer you to a specialist within the Sentara Health network.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are taking serious safety precautions to ensure that our locations are as clean as possible. We’ve put strict sterilization protocols into place and are carefully handling patients who may be contagious to ensure that each one of our clinics is safe for those who need urgent medical care or occupational health services.

Velocity Urgent Care offers convenient online registration that helps you limit your contact with others during a visit. You can sign up for an appointment online ahead of time and arrive when it’s time to be seen to skip the waiting room. We even offer text message updates so you can wait in the car (if you prefer) until it’s time for your appointment.

Velocity Urgent Care is an in-network provider for most major insurance plans, meaning you can be seen for the cost of your co-pay and deductible. All of our locations also accept Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare. Veterans Administration beneficiaries are also welcome. To find out more about our services, locations, hours, and more, visit www.velocityuc.com.