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Effective Treatments for Congestive Heart Failure: A Holistic Perspective

The heart is one of the most vital organs of our body. It diligently pumps blood throughout our system, ensuring that every part of our body gets the necessary nutrients and oxygen. However, sometimes, this efficient pump faces difficulties, and one such condition is congestive heart failure (CHF). According to the CDC, about 6.2 Million adults in the United States suffer from congestive heart failure.  It’s the most common diagnosis in hospitalized patients over age 65. One in nine deaths has heart failure as a contributing cause. Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a chronic, progressive condition. However, many people with CHF are able to effectively manage their symptoms, slow down the progression of the disease, and lead fulfilling lives with the right medical care, lifestyle changes, and support. At Holistic Healing Heart Center, Los Angeles cardiologist Dr. Cynthia Thaik offers an integrative approach to the management of CHF. Our goal is to ensure that you are well-informed and actively involved in your CHF management journey, so you can make informed decisions and embrace a heart-healthy lifestyle with our support.

Understanding Congestive Heart Failure: Causes, Symptoms, and Complications

Contrary to what the name suggests, Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) does not imply that the heart ceases to function. Instead, it signifies a decline in the heart’s efficiency to pump blood. Ejection fraction (EF) is measured as a percentage of the total amount of blood in your heart that is pumped out with each heartbeat. A normal ejection fraction is 50 percent or higher. An ejection fraction below 40 percent means your heart isn’t pumping enough blood and may be failing. Ejection fraction can be easily measured with an echocardiogram, although there are other tests that can be used to measure EF.

Normal 50% to 70%
Below normal 41% to 49%
Indication of heart failure Equal to or less than 40%

During or after testing for heart failure, your health care provider may tell you the stage of disease. Staging helps determine the most appropriate treatment.

There are two main ways to determine the stage of heart failure:

New York Heart Association (NYHA) classification:

Class 1 heart failure. There are no heart failure symptoms.

Class 2 heart failure. Everyday activities can be done without difficulty. But exertion causes shortness of breath or fatigue.

Class 3 heart failure. It’s difficult to complete everyday activities.

Class 4 heart failure. Shortness of breath occurs even at rest. This category includes the most severe heart failure.

American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association classification

This stage-based classification system uses letters A to D. It includes a category for people who are at risk of developing heart failure.

Stage A. There are several risk factors for heart failure but no signs or symptoms.

Stage B. There is heart disease but no signs or symptoms of heart failure.

Stage C. There is heart disease and signs or symptoms of heart failure.

Stage D. Advanced heart failure requires specialized treatments.

There are several factors that can contribute to this condition. The leading cause is coronary artery disease, where blocked arteries hinder blood flow, thereby compelling the heart to greater exertion. A second contributing factor is persistent high blood pressure that overburdens the heart, leading to a gradual weakening of the heart muscle. Cardiomyopathy, which pertains to heart muscle damage due to various factors like drug abuse, excess alcohol intake, infections, or certain infiltrative diseases, is another cause of CHF. A fourth potential cause is heart valve disorders which force the heart to pump with increased force. A fifth potential cause is genetic etiologies.

The manifestations of CHF in individuals can be varied.

Congestive heart failure symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Waking up short of breath at night.
  • Chest pain.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Fatigue when you’re active.
  • Swelling in your ankles, legs and abdomen.
  • Weight gain.
  • Need to urinate while resting at night.
  • A dry, hacking cough.
  • A full (bloated) or hard stomach.
  • Loss of appetite or upset stomach (nausea).

Neglecting to address CHF can have dire consequences. Over time, untreated CHF might culminate in kidney damage, potentially leading to its complete failure. The liver, another crucial organ, is also susceptible to damage. Moreover, the heart itself can encounter further problems like issues with its valves and irregularities in its rhythm.

What are the risk factors for heart failure? 

Certain medical conditions can increase your risk for heart failure, including:

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD) (the most common type of heart disease) and heart attacks
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Other Conditions Related to Heart Disease
  • Valvular Heart Disease

Unhealthy behaviors can also increase your risk for heart failure, especially for people who have one of the conditions listed above. Unhealthy behaviors include:

  • Smoking tobacco
  • Eating foods high in fat, cholesterol, and sodium
  • Not getting enough physical activity
  • Excessive alcohol intake

Pharmacological Treatments For Congestive Heart Failure 

CHF is not curable, but early detection and treatment may help improve a patient’s life expectancy. The management of CHF often involves a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and, in some cases, medical procedures. Here are some of the commonly used pharmacological treatments for CHF:

  • Diuretics: Diuretics help reduce fluid buildup in the body by promoting the excretion of excess salt and water through urine. Common examples include furosemide and hydrochlorothiazide.
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors: ACE inhibitors relax blood vessels and reduce the strain on the heart, improving its pumping ability. Lisinopril and enalapril are commonly prescribed ACE inhibitors.
  • Beta-Blockers: Beta-blockers slow down the heart rate and reduce the heart’s workload, leading to improved heart function. Carvedilol, metoprolol, and bisoprolol are often used in CHF management.
  • Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (ARBs): ARBs work similarly to ACE inhibitors by relaxing blood vessels and reducing strain on the heart. Common examples include losartan and valsartan.
  • Aldosterone Antagonists: Aldosterone antagonists such as spironolactone and eplerenone help regulate salt and water balance, reducing fluid retention and improving heart function.

These medications are often prescribed in combination to provide comprehensive treatment for CHF. 

Holistic Approaches to Managing Congestive Heart Failure 

Holistic methods of controlling congestive heart failure take a broader perspective, seeking to treat the whole individual, encompassing body, mind, and spirit. They include:

Dietary Changes: Adopting a low-sodium diet can significantly reduce fluid retention, which is a common symptom of CHF. Increasing your intake of magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids can also benefit heart health. Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and improve blood vessel function.

Mindfulness and Stress Management: Chronic stress exerts undue strain on the heart. Employing various stress management techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation, have proven effective in lowering stress levels. Evidence shows that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have beneficial psychological and physiological effects in patients with CHF. A 2018 study published in The European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing concluded that MBI, in addition to conventional treatment, has the potential to reduce the impact of self-reported fatigue in patients suffering with CHF.

Emotional Health: It’s important to recognize the emotional toll that congestive heart failure can exact on patients. Given its challenges, seeking counseling or becoming part of support groups can be instrumental in managing emotional well-being. 

Integrating Lifestyle Modifications for Improved Heart Function 

Implementing specific lifestyle changes can greatly enhance heart function, especially for those managing conditions like CHF. 

Exercise: Incorporating a moderate exercise regimen, tailored and approved by a healthcare professional, is essential. Regular physical activity not only strengthens the heart but also bolsters circulation throughout the body. 

Weight Management: In tandem with exercise, maintaining an optimal weight is crucial. By keeping one’s weight in check, the undue burden on the heart can be significantly minimized. Weight loss is associated with a significant improvement in ejection fraction in obese heart failure. A study showed that just a 10 percent reduction in fat mass led to a 22 percent lower risk of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction and a 24 percent lower risk of heart failure with reduced ejection fraction, two subtypes of CHF. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine suggests that although more research is needed on risk reduction for heart failure, evidence indicates that intentional weight loss and increased fitness are advisable for select patients.

Limit alcohol and tobacco: Curtailing the consumption of alcohol and tobacco is imperative. Both of these can aggravate the symptoms of CHF and inflict further harm to the heart. Smoking can cause heart disease and is a risk factor for heart failure, as smoking causes the blood vessels to constrict (narrow). Current and former smokers have roughly double the risk of heart failure of people who have never smoked.

Regular Monitoring: This proactive approach to one’s health can be a game-changer. By diligently maintaining a daily log of weight, dietary intake, and any emerging symptoms, individuals can detect and address potential flare-ups at their inception, ensuring timely intervention.

Complementary Therapies for Supporting Cardiac Health 

The journey to optimal cardiac health often extends beyond conventional medical treatments. Exploring complementary therapies can offer additional avenues to bolster heart health, enhance well-being, and manage symptoms more holistically. Here’s a closer look at some of these therapies:

Acupuncture: This ancient Chinese practice involves inserting fine needles at specific body points to balance the body’s energy. For those with heart conditions, acupuncture might be beneficial in alleviating symptoms and enhancing heart function. In five chronic heart failure studies, acupuncture improved exercise capacity and quality of life

Massage: A therapeutic massage goes beyond relaxation. It can be a potent tool to combat stress, foster improved circulation, and ease muscle tension, all of which are vital for maintaining a healthy heart.

Hawthorn Extract: History is full of references to herbs like Hawthorn, renowned for their cardioprotective properties. A number of studies conclude that hawthorn extract significantly improved heart function. Studies also suggest that the herb can enhance a person’s ability to exercise following heart failure. Nevertheless, diving into herbal remedies requires caution. You should always consult with a healthcare professional before embarking on any herbal regimen to ensure safety and compatibility with existing treatments.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): Some research suggests that CoQ10 supplementation might help improve exercise capacity, reduce symptoms like fatigue and shortness of breath, and enhance overall quality of life in people with heart failure. Specifically, CoQ10’s role in energy production and its antioxidant properties might help protect the heart muscle cells from damage caused by oxidative stress and inflammation.

Potassium and Magnesium: Potassium and magnesium supplements are often prescribed to heart patients taking diuretics, or ”water pills.” They replace the electrolytes you lose because of the water pills. While taking potassium or magnesium, have your blood pressure checked regularly as advised by your doctor.

L-carnitine: Some studies have suggested that L-carnitine supplementation might have positive effects on heart function in certain populations, particularly in individuals with heart conditions or heart failure. It is thought to improve the efficiency of energy production within heart cells.

Biofeedback and Neurofeedback: These innovative techniques can help harness the mind’s power to regulate bodily functions. For cardiac patients, both biofeedback and neurofeedback can be instrumental in training the body to sustain healthier heart rhythms, thereby improving overall cardiac function.

Collaborating with Healthcare Professionals for Comprehensive Care 

Navigating cardiac health demands a collaborative approach with healthcare professionals. A balanced treatment blends medical advice with holistic care. Regular visits to a cardiologist, adhering to prescribed medications, and addressing potential side effects are crucial. For emotional well-being, therapists and counselors are invaluable. Additionally, nutritionists can craft diet plans tailored to one’s specific heart condition, ensuring optimal health.

Managing congestive heart failure is a collaborative effort. It requires an integration of medical treatments, lifestyle changes, and complementary therapies to ensure the heart remains as healthy as possible. Each individual’s journey with congestive heart failure is unique. In partnership with your healthcare team, you’ll need to find what works best for you in improving heart health.

Comprehensive Care for CHF in Los Angeles at Dr. Cynthia Thaik’s Holistic Healing Heart Center 

If you have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, it’s important to prioritize your heart health by seeking the expertise of a skilled cardiologist. In Los Angeles, CHF patients trust Dr. Cynthia Thaik at Holistic Healing Heart Center to provide exceptional care, education, and support. Dr. Thaik’s expertise in cardiology and her holistic approach to treatment ensure that patients receive comprehensive and individualized care for their CHF.

Uniting Eastern and Western practices, Harvard-trained naturopathic cardiologist Dr. Cynthia Thaik, MD and her staff have made it their objective to keep their patients’ hearts healthy and vibrant – in its truest definition. Sometimes the road to health means changing long-held habits, but Dr. Thaik and her team greet such challenges with compassion and focus. Their motto is, “If you’re willing to commit to a healthier life, then we are here to help you”.

If you need a CHF specialist in Los Angeles, look no further than Dr. Thaik’s integrative cardiology practice to provide you the tools to confidently manage your heart health coupled with compassionate care that addresses your holistic well-being. 

Conditions We Treat

The first thing many people assume when they experience chest pain is that they are having a heart attack. While this very well may be the case, there are also a number of other reasons you might be experiencing chest pain. These are some of the most common causes of chest pain: