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How To Test For Heart Failure

Jun 12, 2008
Each year, 5 million Americans will suffer from heart failure, a condition in which the heart can't pump blood to other organs in the body. The root cause is not simply a matter of "blocked pipes" or genetics.

Culprits behind this include narrowed arteries, scar tissue, high blood pressure, heart valve disease, cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle itself), congenital heart defects, infection of the valves (endocarditis), infection of the heart (myocarditis), or a combination of factors.

Coronary Artery Disease is the leading cause of heart failure today. CAD is a manifestation of atherosclerosis, which results from smoking, high cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes.

Sometimes a viral infection, exposure to toxins like lead or alcohol, or genetics can cause a disease in the actual heart muscle, also known as cardiomyopathy. Diabetes, high salt intake, sustained rapid heart rhythms, alcoholism and marked obesity can all be contributors to chronic failure of the heart.

To check if you may have heart health problems, your general practitioner can run several tests to be sure. Many people avoid getting tested in advance because they fear invasive pokes and prods, but most of these screening tests are very non-invasive. For instance, one test, which is a "stress test," has you walking on a treadmill for a specific interval of time through several intensity levels, while an IV-injected tracer moves through the blood, indicating possible obstructions or strain.

Another test, the EKG, simply monitors your heart rhythms through electrical wires with adhesive ends stuck to your chest, arms and legs. An "Echocardiogram" is simply an ultrasound image taken of your chest, which is as painless as a photograph.

Most people are familiar with the usual hypertension/blood pressure test done with a cuff around your bicep. The most invasive test, which is recommended for people with a genetic predisposition, is the "Catheriterization," which is a small tube inserted into the artery, which may open an obstruction or insert dye to see where the problem spots are.

If you've been diagnosed with heart failure, then you'll need to adjust your diet considerably. An overwhelming amount of evidence suggests the importance of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish oil supplements. Dr. James O'Keefe of the Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas recommends at least 1 gram of fish oil per day and as much as 4 grams for people with high triglyceride levels.

"Research shows that this dosage lowers triglyceride levels by 20 to 50 percent," he explains. In addition, you'll be trading in eggs for oatmeal, red meat for fish and hummus instead of chip dip.
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