Sponsored by and provided by Merck
One morning, Robin, woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. She was nauseous and sweaty, and her hands and feet were tingly and numb. She was taken to the emergency room and then life flighted to a heart failure clinic. Only 55 years old and in overall good health, Robin was told her heart wasn’t working properly and that she had heart failure. It was hard for her to wrap her head around this diagnosis.
Like Robin, more than 6 million American adults are living with heart failure, and that number is expected to grow to nearly 8 million by 2030. Heart failure is a long-lasting, progressive disease in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen and tends to worsen over time. One in five Americans over age 40 will be diagnosed with heart failure.
Most people who develop heart failure have a history of heart disease, such as coronary artery disease (a buildup of plaque that narrows or blocks the heart’s arteries), high blood pressure or a previous heart attack. In the U.S., heart failure leads to about 1 million hospitalizations each year. And those who previously have been hospitalized for heart failure have a high chance of the disease getting worse over time and needing to return to the hospital.
Potential impact on people’s lives
The physical symptoms of heart failure, which include shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing, swelling in the feet, ankles and legs (edema), and constantly feeling tired (fatigue), can impact a person’s ability to do everyday activities. Many people with heart failure are not able to handle physical tasks they once could. People with heart failure may have to change their usual habits or make lifestyle changes, such as giving up an activity or even a job, which can affect their mental and emotional well-being.
Andrea Baer, executive director of Mended Hearts®, a non-profit organization which functions as a support group for individuals suffering from heart disease, knows a heart failure diagnosis can be overwhelming.
“Managing chronic heart failure can be a challenge because of the lifestyle changes people need to make, such as following a heart-healthy diet, remembering to take their medicines, paying closer attention to their body and symptoms, and reducing stress,” says Andrea.
“At Mended Hearts®, we encourage patients and their caregivers to work together with their healthcare team,” says Andrea. “Taking on chronic heart failure together can help the patient be more successful in managing the disease, potentially reducing their chances of being hospitalized for worsening symptoms.” Andrea and her team at Mended Hearts® believe that people can take steps to manage the physical, mental and emotional impacts of the condition and push forward after a diagnosis and they don’t need to do it alone.
After diagnosis and hospitalization, Robin started her long road back to regain her strength. She had to learn how to do everything over again, starting with sitting up in bed. She followed her doctor’s advice and stuck to a strict regimen of diet, medicine and exercising as much as she could.
Robin helps others with heart failure
For Robin, one of the most difficult things to overcome was the sheer exhaustion she felt every day, but she worked with her doctors on a treatment plan and pushed herself forward because she wanted to be there for her children and grandchildren. Now, she is able to do some of the activities she enjoys, including taking daily walks, going for a light bike ride, a slow swim and mild paddleboarding.
An important resource for patients like Robin is At the Heart of the Matter – Moving Forward After Your Heart Failure Hospitalization. Sponsored by Merck in collaboration with Mended Hearts®, this program supports people with chronic heart failure and their loved ones by offering educational information that can help patients and caregivers better understand their condition and how to play a more proactive role in their care.
Robin now volunteers with Mended Hearts®, working with others impacted by heart failure. “I always tell people with heart failure to follow their prescribed treatment plan to help their doctor help them get better,” she says. “I also tell them to hold onto hope and stay positive. If you don’t accomplish all you want to do in a day, it’ll still be there waiting for you tomorrow. You just have to focus on what you can still do because there is so much to enjoy in this life.”
Visit AtTheHeartOfTheMatter.com for more information and resources on living with chronic heart failure.