Heart failure is a condition that occurs when the heart can’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood to meet the body’s needs. The causes can vary from narrowing of arteries that supply the heart with blood to scar tissue that interferes with the heart muscle’s ability to pump. High blood pressure can also result in heart failure. The “failing” heart keeps working but not as effectively as it should. People with heart failure can’t exert themselves because they become short of breath and tired. Daily activities become too taxing, and sometimes fluid collects in the lungs and interferes with breathing, especially while lying down.
Heart failure is estimated to affect 4 to 5 million Americans with 550,000 new cases reported annually. The occurrence of heart failure has steadily increased over the past three decades. This increase is caused by the aging US population and improved survival rates for patients with cardiovascular disease. Advanced treatments and diagnostic tests are all contributing to helping patients with cardiovascular disease live longer. Because heart failure is a chronic and progressive disease that is characterized by many hospital admissions it has become the most costly cardiovascular illness in the United States. Fortunately, re-admittance to the hospital can be avoided by watching for signs and symptoms at home, and acting on those symptoms before a trip to the hospital becomes necessary.
At UnityPoint Health - Des Moines, re-admittance for heart failure is being addressed by a multidisciplinary task force, including a cardiologist, nursing staff from cardiac floors, nurse educators, dieticians, pharmacists and cardiac rehab staff. This team developed a patient education packet for patients who are identified with heart failure.
The W.A.T.C.H acronym is the key to heart health:
- W stands for Weight. Patients are taught to weigh themselves every morning after using the bathroom while wearing the same clothing and then recording their weight on a calendar. Since fluid buildup in the body may occur rapidly in these patients, any weight gain of three pounds or more overnight, or more than five pounds in a week is a symptom that needs to be reported to the doctor right away. Digital scales are recommended and are now being sold in the gift shops at all three UnityPoint Health - Des Moines Hospitals. Scales can also be purchased at department stores and drug stores.
- A stands for Activity. Keeping as active as possible and increasing activity to a moderate level can help to control heart failure and reduce hospital stays. Outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation at Iowa Lutheran Hospital offers many options for heart failure patients, and can assist with management of the disease as well as activity recommendations.
- T stands for Take Your Medications as prescribed. Often when medications are stopped or taken improperly, heart failure symptoms become unmanageable for the patient at home, and admittance to the hospital is required.
- C stands for Call Your Health Care provider if you gain three pounds or more in one day, have shortness of breath, or any other symptoms. When in doubt it is always best to call the doctor to get further instruction in handling any symptoms before they become bigger problems.
- H stands for a Heart Healthy Diet. This includes eating foods that are low in fat and cholesterol and especially watching salt intake. 1,500 to 2,000 mg of salt (sodium) per day is recommended (or 500-600mg per meal). Sodium is a big culprit in causing the body to keep extra fluid, and therefore making the heart work harder to pump that extra fluid around the body.
The goal of the instruction and teaching initiative is to help our patients live longer, live healthier, and stay out of the hospital. Working as a team, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and dieticians can help decrease hospital stays for heart failure patients and arm the patients with information they need to help manage their disease from home.