Hidden Risks of Heart Failure

March 13, 2018 Kyler Barkley, MD



Depression or psoriasis may increase risk of heart failure

If you have heart failure, check with your doctor before taking medications

Healthy lifestyles guard against heart failure and other heart diseases

Your heart naturally loses some blood-pumping abilities with age. However, weakened heart muscles can eventually lead to heart failure, a condition that affects 5.7 million adult Americans and is a contributing cause to nearly one in 9 deaths in the United States.

What is heart failure?

“Heart failure occurs when your heart muscle isn’t pumping enough blood to the rest of your body,” says Kyler Barkley, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Covenant Health. “Because of the insufficient pumping, pressures in your heart increase and fluid starts to build up in your lungs and other organs, which may leave you feeling short of breath — even while resting. This buildup of fluid is called congestion, hence the alternate name ‘congestive heart failure.’”

Hidden health risks that may lead to heart failure

Risk of heart failure is most often associated with conditions that put extra wear and tear on the heart. But did you know your risk could increase significantly if you have seemingly unrelated conditions like depression or psoriasis?

  • Depression
    Research has suggested that people with moderate to severe depression may be up to 40 percent more likely to suffer congestive heart failure. The theory goes like this: Depression tells your body to elevate its levels of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, as well as activate the sympathetic nervous system (part of the "fight or flight" response). Together, the stress and the associated inflammation damages your heart and raises your risk of heart failure. Depression also increases inflammation throughout your body, which is known to damage arteries and lead to a buildup of blockages, plaque and fluids.
  • Psoriasis
    How can dry skin affect your heart? A new study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that inflammation of the skin is accompanied by chronic inflammation of the blood vessels, which may increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. As your immune system works to heal your psoriasis, it could inadvertently harm your heart by causing excess inflammation throughout your body, increasing the risk of heart failure.

Other health conditions linked to heart failure

There are plenty of conditions well-known for leading to an increased risk of heart failure, including coronary artery disease, past heart attack, high blood pressure, abnormal heart valves, chronic inflammation, heart defects, lung disease, diabetes, obesity and sleep apnea. Let’s take a look at three lesser-known conditions that may also pose a risk:

  • Low red blood cells (severe anemia)
    When you don’t have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body, the heart has to work harder to move the smaller number of cells at a faster rate.
  • An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
    This condition makes your body work at a faster pace, causing the heart to work even harder to keep up.
  • Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia/dysrhythmia)
    An irregular heartbeat may not pump enough blood throughout your body.

Certain medications may worsen symptoms associated with heart failure

If you have heart failure, check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter or prescribed medications. Here is a list of common medications that may exacerbate heart failure symptoms:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
    • Aspirin
    • Ibuprofen
    • Sudafed
    • Antacids
    • Laxatives
  • Herbal remedies (see the complete list)
    • Garlic
    • Saw Palmetto
    • Ginko
    • Echinacea
    • St. John’s Wort
    • Green Tea
  • Prescription pain relievers
    • Celecoxib
    • Etodolac
    • Indomethacin
    • Ketoprofen
    • Nabumetone
    • Naproxen
    • Piroxicam
    • Sulindac
  • Heart medications
    • Disopyramide
    • Flecainide
    • Procainamide
    • Propafenone
    • Quinidine
  • Calcium channel blockers
    • Diltiazem
    • Verapamil
  • Diabetic medications
    • Pioglitazone
    • Rosiglitazone

A healthy lifestyle is the first step in prevention

“There are so many seemingly small things that can affect your overall heart health for better or for worse, especially when they persist over time. It can be anything from what foods you put into your body, your emotional balance or the way you deal with stress, to the type of medications you take, the type of health conditions you have and the habits that are part of your lifestyle,” says Dr. Barkley. “If you want to reduce your risk of heart disease, one of your priorities in addition to regular checkups should be to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle, including a well-balanced, nutritious diet, a doctor-approved exercise plan and a focus on controlling other chronic conditions.”

Nutrition tips

If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, it is important to consume a heart-healthy diet to help your heart muscle and your body heal. Focus on eating an anti-inflammatory diet filled with fresh, organic fruits and vegetables and wild-caught fatty fish. Avoid foods that can cause or agitate inflammation like white bread, pastries, cookies and pasta. You’ll also want to avoid high-salt foods that can increase blood pressure and swelling. Also, be careful with seasonings, which can be a hidden source of salt or sodium. Try seasoning with lemon, pineapple or orange juice marinades and fresh ground pepper instead.

Are you ready to give your heart a makeover? Find a skilled physician near you and schedule a checkup. 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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