A diagnosis of congestive heart failure, or CHF, can be a mental shock to many patients. The patient may feel betrayed by their own body, weak and unable to trust oneself to do or enjoy anything, ever again. This is especially true if the patient has always been strong and ‘the rock' upon which everyone else relies. The following inspiring stories will help even the most reluctant patient to cope with their diagnosis and teach them that, while they will probably never return to the joie de vivre and resilience that he or she enjoyed at twenty, life is by no means over following a diagnosis.
Dragging her weary body to the doctor, at her husband's insistence, Susan Hayne, of Memphis Tennessee, was diagnosed with congestive heart disease and type-2 diabetes. After a brief period of hospitalisation, in which she lost 60 pounds in ten days as much of the excess fluid was drained from her body, she realised that she needed to make drastic life-style changes if she was to live long enough to see her children grow to middle-age. She quit smoking immediately, aided by the statement from her doctor that ‘if she touched another cigarette, she could be signing her own death warrant', and began to make healthy food choices, cutting out processed junk food and cooking from scratch. Initially too overweight to do much exercise, she gradually worked her way to taking full Zumba classes. She is now normal weight, and while her heart will never fully recover from the many years of abuse, Susan is alive, vibrant and full of energy - a far cry from the tired, weak woman who reluctantly headed to her doctor's surgery two years ago.
Despite the scary name heart failure does not mean the heart has stopped working, rather, that the heart is working slower and less efficiently than it should. This impacts on the kidneys which also become less efficient at processing waste and water tends to build up throughout the body - the congestion in the name of the disease. Symptoms of CHF include shortness of breath (caused by the excess fluid pressing on the lungs, weakness and tiredness (can also manifest as dizziness and confusion) and oedema or swelling of the limbs, extremities and even the abdomen. Often, nausea or loss of appetite is experienced too. The heart, not working as efficiently and powerfully as it should, tends to try to beat faster to compensate and the patient can sometimes feel a rapid heartbeat. However, some people have no symptoms at all, in the early stages of the disease.
Many people think that heart disease is purely the province of the old or the excessively fat, but this is not always the case. Migdalia Rivera was only 39 and her son Karl was just 15 when they were both diagnosed as having heart issues, caused almost entirely by their poor diet. Horrified, Migdalia immediately changed the way that she prepared meals, opting for a real food diet, rather than relying on processed foods saturated with artificial products and trans fats. They also began to walk as often as possible, instead of relying on public transport. The threat of having her son put onto medication for life, before he even reached adulthood was spur enough to transform their lives. Karl was, as might be expected from a teenage boy, reluctant to change his ways at first, but once Migdalia explained the potential repercussions to his health, he was inspired to change. Karl has now lost thirty pounds, and Migdalia twenty, and their cholesterol and blood pressure levels have returned to normal.
Modern medicine has seen a huge array of treatments for congestive heart failure being implemented all over the world, from daily medications to stents and pace-makers to full-blown heart surgery. Once you are established in a treatment regimen make sure you follow your doctor's advice. Your doctor may prescribe medications that must be taken correctly in order for them to work properly, and you may also be sent to a cardiac rehab programme, which will teach you how to eat in a heart friendly way, lead you through good heart-healthy exercises that will strengthen, rather than stress out your heart.
Finally, do not be afraid to confide in someone, telling them how your diagnosis has made you feel. Often, the mere act of telling people your inner feelings can go a long way to helping you put them in perspective and make them infinitely more manageable. Hopefully the above inspiring stories have helped you to come to terms with your diagnosis, and will be an aid as you learn to live with your disease, while still enjoying life to the full.