Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a long-term condition that, if left untreated, can affect many organs of the body and eventually lead to their shutdown and death. However, CHF can be managed through careful monitoring by health professionals, lifestyle changes and medications.
Helping CHF sufferers understand their condition and how to manage it is the goal of the Congestive Heart Failure Clinic at Wake Forest Baptist Health - Lexington Medical Center. At least 25 percent of the patients who come to the Emergency Department with heart-related issues have CHF.
The clinic's goal is to equip those with CHF with the necessary information and tools to help them effectively manage their disease and ultimately improve their quality of life. CHF can be debilitating, but through proper monitoring, medication and lifestyle changes, patients can live a normal life.
About Congestive Heart Failure
CHF is generally defined as the inability of the heart to supply sufficient blood flow to meet the needs of the body. This in turn results in fluid buildup which causes congestion in the organs of the body, especially in the lungs. People who suffer from CHF experience symptoms of shortness of breath on exertion, difficulty lying flat, and swelling of the legs, feet and abdomen. Fluid backs up because the heart isn't able to pump adequately. Every cell in the body needs adequate oxygen and blood circulation in order to function. When the heart fails to meet those needs, fluid builds because the heart can't keep it moving.
CHF dramatically impacts daily living. Due to a lack of oxygen to the muscles, those with CHF tire after little effort making it difficult to walk and climb stairs. And because oxygen flow to the brain is diminished, patients may become less sharp. It is not uncommon for a CHF sufferer to seek emergency care because they think they have pneumonia. Without proper disease management at home, those with CHF are hospitalized frequently.
The cardiac nurse educator works with CHF patients and their primary care physician and/or cardiologist to help them manage their disease at home. Patients admitted with a CHF diagnosis receive comprehensive instructions prior to discharge and can enroll in a special class for CHF patients. Patients learn how to monitor their symptoms to know when to seek medical intervention.
In addition, patients receive a set of scales, a blood pressure monitor and a pill box to help in daily monitoring of symptoms and medications. Rapid weight gain is a significant indicator that fluid is building up in the body. Patients are supplied with the scales so that their weight can be monitored daily. Gaining two or more pounds in a day or five pounds in a week are signs of worsening heart failure and that medical intervention is needed.When worsening symptoms are found at the onset, patients can avoid hospitalization.
A cardiac nurse educator follows up with each patient at home to monitor their condition and make sure they are following up with doctor appointments.
Cardiologist Katie Twomley, MD medically supervises patients already under her care and is available to clinic patients who do not have a heart specialist.
The Congestive Heart Failure Clinic, provided by the hospital, works in collaboration with the patient's physician. The intent of the program is not to replace care provided by the patient's physician or cardiologist, but rather to complement as an added resource helping manage a serious, chronic condition.