Living with Heart Failure: Not 'Doom and Gloom'

LEONARDTOWN, Md. (Dec. 2, 2008)—Resisting the fried oysters, cured hams and many of the holiday favorites is something that even the most disciplined healthy eater struggles with, but for some, saying 'no' to these high-sodium dishes may prevent a visit to the emergency room.

Heart failure is the number one hospital admission diagnosis for patients over 65 years old and about 4.8 million Americans of all ages have heart failure, according to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Congestive Heart Failure is the number one reason for readmission at St. Mary's Hospital.

Heart failure is an acute or chronic disease that is caused by a weakness of the heart muscle. This weakness prevents effective pumping of the heart, which often precipitates shortness of breath and fluid build-up in the lungs or lower extremities, said Terri Verbic-Boggs, registered nurse and health educator at St. Mary's Hospital. She said heart failure is often caused by years of not controlling high blood pressure. Excessive sodium intake is a leading cause of high blood pressure.

The hospital started a program in January where Verbic-Boggs meets with patients diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) while admitted at St. Mary's Hospital. She contacts the patient by phone within 72 hours once he or she goes home and follows up with phone calls periodically to provide education and advice. She also invites them to attend quarterly meetings for CHF patients, family members and caregivers called, "Living Well with Congestive Heart Failure." The next meeting is Saturday, Dec. 6 from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the hospital's Atrium.

"The whole goal for this program is to improve their quality of life and to prevent their readmission to the hospital," said Verbic-Boggs. "It is not doom and gloom. You can live a very healthy life with heart failure."

Living a healthy life means patients should follow certain health guidelines. The event on Dec. 6 will touch on the causes, symptoms and treatments of CHF; tips on surviving the holiday eating frenzy; and an understanding of medications and therapeutic exercises patients can attempt.

"Holiday time is a typical time where people who normally were managing their disease well quickly get in trouble because of what they eat," Verbic-Boggs said. "Holiday time is crucial for these folks to really pay attention to what they are eating because a lot of our holiday foods are really packed with sodium."

Patients with CHF are encouraged to weigh themselves every morning before they eat breakfast on the same scale with similar clothes on to see how much their weight has fluctuated. Even a one or two pound difference could mean a build-up of fluids and should be communicated with a physician. It is also crucial that patients comply with the medications prescribed to them and abide by a low-sodium diet.

To pre-register for the Dec. 6 event or for more information on free blood pressure checks, contact St. Mary's Hospital's Health Connections at 301-475-6019. The event is free to the public and will feature a continental breakfast.

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