This year, more than 600,000 women and men will go to the doctor for shortness of breath, fatigue, or swelling in their feet and legs, only to hear some difficult news. They have joined more than 5 million people in the United States who are living with congestive heart failure (CHF). For those with CHF, conditions such as high blood pressure or coronary artery disease have weakened the heart muscles over time. That means the heart is unable to pump enough blood to keep up with the body's needs. Although CHF affects people young and old, the risk increases as we age. In fact, it is the leading cause of hospitalization for people aged 65 and older. So if you’re looking into nursing care for yourself or someone you love, you should consider whether the nursing center you choose has a thorough understanding of CHF and an effective plan for addressing the disease.
Healthy developments for managing heart failure
While CHF is a serious condition that contributes to almost 300,000 deaths each year in the United States, the news isn't all bad. Today, medical professionals and patients are proving that CHF can be successfully managed, leading to improved quality of life and extended lifespans. Achieving better outcomes requires proper attention across the entire continuum of care, from home to hospital to skilled nursing centers.
The increased focus on CHF seems to be paying off. Since the early 1960s, deaths from heart failure have actually decreased on average by 12 percent each decade. The reasons why can be found everywhere from major research hospitals to increased awareness at local doctor's offices and skilled nursing centers.
The more you know about CHF, the healthier you can be
According to Executive Director Nanetta Malone of Laurelton Village Care Center in Brick, New Jersey, effective congestive heart failure care from a skilled nursing center starts with information and education. "You can never address heart failure too soon,” she says, "whether you are visiting a center for short-term rehabilitation or if you require more extended care. At our center, we work closely with our partner hospitals and referring physicans to identify patients who are dealing with heart failure, usually in addition to other medical concerns. Once you arrive here as a patient, our interdisciplinary team works with you to help understand how your heart failure is being managed, how to recognize and control your symptoms, how your medications work and how to look for early warning signs that you should communicate to your caregivers."
Malone says that whenever possible, patients are the best advocates for their own good health. "The more someone understands about their own heart and the negative changes that heart failure can bring, the more motivated they may be to make changes in their lives that minimize the damage. Eating less salty foods. Getting serious about taking their medicine regularly. Giving up smoking. Practicing good hygeine to minimize colds and flus that could strain heart function. Balancing exercise with rest. It all makes a real difference."
Patient education and behavior are essential, but they are only part of a successful CHF program at a skilled nursing center, says Malone. "The center you choose should also specially train the staff to monitor all aspects of heart failure. For just one example, rapid, siginificant changes in weight can be telltale signs of changes in cardiac health. That's why here at Laurelton, we weigh every patient with CHF every single day. A weight gain or loss of more than 2 pounds will be reported to the attending physician. And our staff teaches patients how to monitor themselves and what actions to take following discharge from the center. According to Malone, patients are living longer, better lives since centers like here implemented CHF programs. She says, "These are the kinds of protocols that can save lives. We’re taking exceptional steps to ensure exceptional patient outcomes."
Know the Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor, especially if you have a history of heart disease in your family.
• Are you gaining weight rapidly? Getting swelling in your ankles, legs or abdomen? If you gain more than 2-3 pounds in a day or 4-5 pounds in a week, or if you experience swelling you may be retaining water, an effect of getting less blood to your kidneys.
• Are you regularly fatigued? Do you experience dizzy spells? Not getting enough blood to your muscles or brain can make you feel tired and weaker than usual, or send the room spinning.
• Are your lungs congested? Do you have a dry, hacking cough? CHF can sometimes lead to the backup of fluid in the lungs, which can cause shortness of breath when you exert yourself or even at rest.