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At Risk Of Heart Failure?

Congestive heart failure is a gradual weakening of the heart muscle that eventually causes the heart to lose the ability to beat properly. Patients suffer from lack of energy and often have to live with restricted mobility.

A new report shows that Americans over the age of 40 have a one in five risk of developing progressive heart failure, and the lifetime risk is double for people who have high blood pressure. The Early Show medical contributor Dr. Emily Senay reports.

The information comes from one of the largest and longest running heart studies - The Framingham Study, which has followed more than 8,000 men and women, some for as long as 25 years.

The Cause:

Congestive heart failure can be caused by prior heart attack, long-standing high blood pressure, diabetes or a faulty heart valve. It is the No.1 cause for hospitalizations for people over 65, but it can often be hard to diagnose.

Prevention:

The good news is that an awareness of risk provides an opportunity to modify lifestyle to ensure a good diet and regular exercise, both factors that can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. And there are medications to treat heart failure when it occurs. There is also help available from an implantable device that helps jolt the heart back into a normal rhythm when heart failure puts it out of kilter.

The problem is that the symptoms can be confused with other problems.

The two main complaints from people who come into the emergency room with heart failure are shortness of breath and fatigue. Other symptoms can include leg-swelling, lack of appetite, nausea, confusion and increased heart rate as the heart tries to make up for not beating efficiently.

The symptoms can be hard for a doctor to diagnose because shortness of breath is a symptom of bronchitis and pneumonia as well as heart failure. In the past, diagnosis has often been a painstaking process of elimination.

Some doctors have begun to use new three-dimensional ultrasound techniques as a diagnostic tool to detect heart failure early and monitor the progress of treatment. There's also a new simple, accurate fifteen-minute test for heart failure where blood is measured for a hormone called BNP or Brain Natriuretic Peptide. Levels of the hormone rise when the heart gets too overloaded.

This new test means patients get quicker treatment. Results come up in a few minutes, which means quicker treatment if it turns out to be heart failure. And it means less anxiety and waiting for emergency-room patients who might be experiencing discomfort, difficulty breathing or fatigue.