Despite its scary name, heart failure doesn't mean that the heart has failed completely—it means that the heart's pumping ability is reduced and cannot meet 100% of the body's need for blood flow. Blood backs up in veins. fluid builds up in lungs.. and kidneys retain fluid. Symptoms include shortness of breath, persistent coughing, increased heart rate, fatigue and leg swelling.

Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization in the US among women and men age 65 and older, though female patients are more likely to be disabled by it. About 40% to 50% of patients die within five years.

Diabetes quintuples the risk for heart failure ...obesity doubles it. High blood pressure or a history of heart attack increases risk two-to threefold-but half of all women who develop heart failure have no previous diagnosis of heart disease. Nutritional strategies that may reduce your risk...

  • Boost vitamin D. In a German study, heart disease patients with vitamin D deficiency were nearly three times more likely to develop heart failure than those with normal levels.

Theory: Vitamin D may counteract genetic and hormonal effects that raise blood pressure and cause abnormal heart muscle overgrowth. Get at least 1,000 international units (1) daily from diet (fish, fortified dairy foods) and/or supplements.

  • Consume more marine omega 3 fatty acids. In an Italian study, heart failure patients who took 1,000 milligrams (mg) daily of fish oil were significantly less likely than those given placebos to be hospitalized or die.

Goal: Eat fatty fish (herring, mackerel, salmon) at least twice weekly.

But: Even daily fish may not supply the 1,000 mg of omega-3s that heart disease patients need—so these people should consider fish oil supplements.

Eat more whole grains. A US study of more than 14,000 people found that for each one-serving-daily increase in whole grains, heart failure risk fell by 7%. Aim for two to three servings daily. Try unfamiliar onesfarro, bulgur, barley, quinoa.

  • Limit eggs and high-fat dairy foods. The US study found that heart failure risk rose by 23% for each one-serving-per-day increase in eggs...and by 8% for each one-serving-per-day increase in high-fat dairy.

Prudent: Have eggs only a few times per week...stick with low- or nonfat dairy foods.

  • Avoid high-dose vitamin E supplements. Contrary to previous beliefs, vitamin E does not protect against heart disease and stroke. In fact, it is linked to increased heart failure risk. The amount of vitamin E in a multivitamin is fine, but there is no basis for taking separate high-dose supplements of vitamin E.

Hawthorn Relieves Heart Failure Symptoms

With heart failure, the heart's pumping action fails to effectively circulate blood. Fluid builds up in the lungs and elsewhere, causing fatigue and shortness of breath.

Recent finding: Patients with mild-to-moderate heart failure who took herbal hawthorn extract had significant improvement in symptoms.

Theory: Hawthorn may boost the heart's contraction strength, improving blood flow.

Possible side effects: Nausea, dizziness, digestive complaints.

Recommended: Ask your doctor about usage and dosage.

Calcium Puts Healthy Women at Risk for Heart Disease

Based on current guidelines, women are considered to be at low risk for heart disease if they do not smoke, do not have diabetes, and have normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

New finding: Among these supposedly low-risk women, about 5% actually may be at increased risk for heart attack or stroke due to a significant buildup of calcium in coronary arteries.

Best: Discuss this risk with your doctor.

Better Heart Disease Screening

In a recent study, 3,601 women received computed tomography (CT) chest scans to detect calcium deposits in the coronary arteries, a heart disease risk factor not included in the Framingham score, a well-known heart disease risk assessment that relies on such factors as cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

Result: 30% of the women rated as "low risk" by the Framingham risk score had detectable coronary calcification.

If you are at risk for cardiovascular disease: Ask your doctor if you should have a CT scan to screen for coronary calcification.

The Statin Drug That Doesn't Work for Women

Clinical trials of cholesterol-lowering atorvastatin (Lipitor) found evidence that the drug reduced heart attack risk for men—but not women. Ads for Lipitor fail to disclose this Statins can have serious side effects-review pros and cons with your doctor.

Giving Birth Prematurely Predicts Heart Risk

Women who had delivered before 37 weeks of pregnancy were more than twice as likely to have heart disease decades later as women who had delivered at full term (after 37 weeks).

Theory: Inflammation and blood fats may affect both pregnancy and heart health.

Best: Women with a history of preterm delivery may benefit from early cardiac interventions, such as exercise and weight control.

Psoriasis Tied to Heart Disease

Patients with severe psoriasis at age 30 had more than three times the risk for a heart attack compared with those of the same age without psoriasis.

Theory: Inflammation plays a role in the development of both psoriasis and cardiovascular disease.

If you have psoriasis: Ask your doctor to screen you at least every two years for high blood pressure and obesity and at least every two to five years for elevated cholesterol and triglyceride (blood fat) levels and diabetes—all are cardiovascular disease risk factors.

Surprising Heart Attack Risk Factor

In a recent study of nearly 15,000 people, researchers found that kidney stone disease (buildup of crystals in the kidneys from substances in urine) was up to three times more likely to occur in those with metabolic syndrome -heart attack and stroke risk factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Theory: People with metabolic syndrome have a propensity to develop highly acidic urine, which raises kidney stone risk.

If you have kidney stones: Ask your doctor whether you need testing for metabolic syndrome.

Getting Drunk Raises Heart Attack Risk

Women who drank alcohol to the point of intoxication at least once a month were six times as likely to suffer a heart attack (not necessarily while drinking) as women who drank at least monthly but not enough to be intoxicated.

Best: Never drink to the point of intoxication.

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