Heart Failure: Warning Signs, Stages, and What Really Happens to Our Body
Getting older is not all about sickness and chronic health conditions. In fact, getting older doesn’t have to mean you sacrifice or lose anything at all!
Countless seniors take on new hobbies, are as active as ever, and are fulfilling the dreams they never could when they were younger and busier.
So please don’t read this post as a “you’re getting old, which means you’re going to face a heart condition at some point!” That’s not the case at all – this post is to give you a brief explanation of what to watch out for.
I won’t give you the eye-roll quote about a dose of prevention here, but some of these heart disease warning signs are strange. They’re symptoms we certainly never thought of before, and it’s always best to be prepared for the worst.
The Beginning of Heart Failure
Heart failure generally starts with pretty mild symptoms, and it slowly progresses. At first, you start feeling like walking and typical physical activity is pretty uncomfortable (SynCardia Systems).You lose your breath quickly, your heartbeat feels a bit irregular, and you’re generally tired. You most likely take more naps than you did before.
At this point, your heart is weakening, meaning that it’s working harder than normal to pump blood through your entire body. This causes your body to lose oxygen, which can cause you to lose function.
The Progression of Heart Failure
As the heart failure gets worse, you notice a distinct difference in your ability to walk and move around comfortably. Just walking from your bedroom to the kitchen is difficult – you lose your breath quicker than before, and you can tell that something is definitely off.
You might also be noticing some other symptoms of heart failure, which include confusion and a hard time thinking straight. This happens because your blood is changing – for example, the sodium levels can fluctuate, which causes the impaired thinking.
Other common symptoms are continuous coughing or wheezing. As the heart failure progresses, the coughing might get worse with white or pink mucus. This is happening because of fluid building up in the lungs.
That fluid build-up in the lungs can also lead to a very strange symptom – sleeping with a stack of pillows under your head. You do this so that you’re more upright when you sleep, because when you lay down flat, that fluid in your lungs makes you feel as if you’re drowning (Doctor Mike Osborn in Obesity: The Post Mortem).
Severe Heart Failure
Finally, there comes a point where your heart just can’t pump your blood well anymore. At this point, you can’t do anything physical at all. You’re constantly tired, your breathing feels nearly impossible, and you’re short of breath, even when you’re completely at rest.
You’ll also notice that your body starts to swell. It’s most common in the feet, ankles, legs, and even the abdomen. This happens because as your heart slows down, fluid builds up in your body (American Heart Association).
You likely have a mucusy cough that never goes away, and you might lose your appetite, which happens as your digestive system receives less blood. This can also cause nausea.
Finally, your heart exhausts itself, and it just can’t pump anymore.
If you have the stomach for it – I mean, seriously have the stomach for it – a doctor and an anatomical pathology technologist filmed a documentary about an obese autopsy. Around the 18 minute mark to about the 20 minute mark, they show what the woman’s heart looked like when she died – and she did die of heart failure.
Her heart was a bit baggy – not firm, which is what a very healthy heart would feel like. Her heart was also very heavy, which is typical of a person with heart failure. The heart has to pump to keep up the pressure, and the heart gets bigger and bigger, and there comes a point where the heart can’t get any bigger and it just exhausts itself.
Another problem the doctor found is that the wall of ventricle was very thin. A normal heart ventricle is about an inch thick all the way around. Hers was maybe 8 millimeters, or about a third of an inch. High blood pressure leads to the thinning.
Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States, accounting for almost a quarter of all deaths (Medical News Today).
It’s so important that you’re aware of any warning signs, because even if you live a healthy lifestyle, you could still be at risk. The Harvard Heart Letter explains, “Many different types of heart disease can be passed down through families. [...] To date, researchers have identified 67 different sites in the DNA sequence that increase heart attack risk.”
So, in between your hobbies and new adventures that come with retirement and older age, keep an eye on your general health.
If you have any concerns or just want to stay on top of things, feel free to use your free Medicare cardiovascular disease screening, which you can use every 5 years.
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