Heart failure = 2.1 to five years of life

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Shakespeare wrote this over 400 years ago. The immortal bard could easily be referring to the epidemic of congestive heart failure (CHF) in this country. So what does this disease mean to us, and our health care system?

To find out, I visited the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC) at the University of Toronto. Dr. Michael McDonald, an expert on CHF, says, “Today, if you’re over the age of 65, heart failure is the most common reason for being admitted to hospital.”

It’s prudent to read his remark twice as this diagnosis means a life expectancy as low as 2.1 to 5 years!

McDonald says CHF can result from a variety of causes such as a birth defect, injured valves due to rheumatic fever, a blood infection that scars valves, hypertension and aging. But the most common cause is a previous heart attack that damages cardiac muscle and weakens the pumping action of the heart.

He adds that the early symptoms of heart failure are sometimes difficult to detect. In some patients there may be unexplained fatigue or a slight cough. Later, shortness of breath and swelling of ankles. Or the diagnosis may become apparent when an X-ray of the lungs is taken for another reason and it shows an enlarged heart.

So what can be done to increase the length of life when the heart begins to fail? Dr. McDonald stresses that early diagnosis and treatment is essential. Injured muscle cannot be restored. But drugs that decrease the heart rate or take the stress off the failing heart decrease the work load of the heart’s muscle and help to lengthen life. The use of water pills also eases the disabling symptoms of heart failure.

As well, it pays dividends to follow an exercise routine. The best one is walking, to keep the rest of the body in good shape.

But why is CHF and cardiovascular disease the number one cause of death today?

The blunt answer is our questionable lifestyle. Two big problems, the epidemics of obesity and Type 2 diabetes are guilty and they’re getting worse every year. It’s tragic that 95% of those with Type 2 diabetes are obese. Sixty-five years ago it was 5%.

Type 2 diabetes is notorious for triggering atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) which causes hypertension and additional strain on the heart’s muscle. It’s a prime example of the Gifford-Jones Law that one bad trouble leads to another and another. Unfortunately, it requires draconian measures to correct this trend. But it won’t happen so individuals must fight obesity and Type 2 diabetes as their lives depends on it!

What’s the prognosis for the future? Along with treating patients with a variety of cardiovascular problems, the PMCC, a world class centre, is engaged in finding new ways to treat the increasing number of patients with CHF.

For instance, researchers are using stem cells to grow cardiac muscle to replace those destroyed by coronary attack. They’re also considering ways to remove the heart, repair it, and then replace it in the body. But repairing or replacing hearts is pricy and demand will exceed supply. Besides, we cannot expect cardiologists and researchers to cure all our medical problems.

There is only one sound solution. Prevention has, and will always remain, better than cure. This means people must learn to treat their heart with tender loving care. The heart is a machine that beats 2.5 billion times by age 70 without a holiday, an amazing durability.

It’s been said that prudent people practice a sound lifestyle early in life, but fools attempt it only at the end. Abraham Lincoln once remarked that we have the two best doctors in our body, our left and right legs. The idea is to use them to keep the body well oiled, while counting calories to fight obesity. Then fewer people will suffer heart failure.

Shakespeare was right. Today, many people are the architects of their own misfortune. See the web site www.docgiff.com to see more reason to lead a good lifestyle.

For information, visit www.docgiff.com. For comments, email info@docgiff.com.

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