The high hospital readmission rate of those who suffer from heart failure impacts adversely on both the cost of health care and the health and well-being of the patients themselves.

Nationally, one of every four heart failure patients is readmitted within 30 days of discharge and as many as 40 percent within six months. At the same time, studies have shown that with proper management, heart failure patients could be kept out of the hospital in at least 40 percent of cases.

Whereas it was once felt that heart transplants and other state-of-the-art technologies was the best way to help these patients, today the thinking is to start with the basics by educating and teaching people to make lifestyle changes. This includes teaching the importance of eating and exercising properly, and taking their medication, which can avoid having heart failure patients get to the point where they need a high-tech procedure to stay alive.

Heart failure, once called congestive heart failure, is when the heart can no longer pump enough blood to the rest of the body. With this often chronic condition, blood may back up in other areas of the body causing fluid buildup in the lungs, liver, GI tract, and arms and legs. This causes a lack of oxygen and nutrition to the organs and extremities, damaging and reducing their ability to work properly.

Coronary artery disease (or CAD), which is a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart, is the most common cause of heart failure. Diseases like emphysema and severe anemia can also contribute to heart failure.

Symptoms often begin slowly, and may only be apparent when one is active. They include shortness of breath, coughing, swelling of the feet and ankles, weight gain, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite and fatigue.

A preventive program often includes diet and exercise and other healthy lifestyle changes. Recommended diets include foods low in sodium and salt – which can mean avoiding such staples as cured meats, bacon, sausages, ham, cheese and bottled dressings – and the use of such spices as pepper, garlic and lemon instead of salt. Patients are urged to lose weight and, for those who smoke, to quit.

Doctors also closely manage the multiple medications that most heart failure patients take. This can include ACE inhibitors to open blood vessels and decrease the workload of the heart, diuretics that help the body eliminate fluid and salt, digitalis glycosides to help the heart muscle contract properly and treat heart rhythm disturbances, angiotensin receptor blockers to eliminate the side effects brought on by the ACE inhibitors, and beta blockers that can improve the heart’s pumping ability.