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For your health: Heart failure symptoms and prevention
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We watched in awe as he shook the salt shaker until a thick, white layer topped his entire breakfast, including the bacon and sausage. In the back of my mind, I thought it was only a matter of time before this man became a patient at Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC).

Two weeks later, the 45 year-old truck driver was looking at me from his bed in our Intensive Care Unit, promising he would never eat salt again.

As heart failure experts, we see this scenario again and again. American portion sizes have grown in recent years, and sodium preservatives enhance the taste of food. This deadly combination has led to increases in obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, which can lead to heart attack, heart failure and stroke.

Heart failure is a syndrome where the heart is either unable to properly fill with blood or pump blood to the rest of the body. When this happens, a person can experience shortness of breath, become extremely tired, develop swelling in his or her legs or abdomen, have a cough and/or be unable to lie flat to sleep.

Many patients say their pants are too tight one day and loose the next, or they’ve quickly gained 10 pounds in two weeks or less. These are signs of fluid buildup most often related to heart failure.

Patients who are most at risk to develop heart failure already have some of the following medical problems: high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity in which the majority of the weight is stored in your belly, heart disease, previous heart attacks, irregular heart rhythms, thyroid disease and drug and alcohol abuse.

To prevent heart failure, here are some tips:

Follow a daily diet consisting of 1,500 mg or less of sodium. You should never add salt to your food. A teaspoon of salt, or three shakes of a salt shaker, contains 2,300 mg of sodium.

Stay active. Walking for 30 minutes every day reduces your chance of developing heart disease, stroke and hypertension. If you are overweight, start losing weight today.

Take your medications as ordered by your healthcare provider. Never skip doses or adjust your medications yourself.

Schedule regular appointments with your healthcare provider. Research has shown patients who go to their scheduled visits have better management of their symptoms and better quality of life.

Help and treatments are available locally. NGMC has a Heart Failure Disease Management Program consisting of board certified physicians and specialized staff. We also offer an Outpatient Diuresis Clinic, where doctors can refer patients to receive doses of diuretics to help reduce fluid buildup. And our Heart Failure Support Service is a team of nurses who teach relatives and caregivers to support patients after they leave the hospital.

If you have any questions about NGMC’s Heart Failure Program, call 770-219-7466.

Eva Johnson is a nurse practitioner with a specialty in heart failure at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.