Hearty News: Early Diagnosis and Aggressive Treatment Saves Lives

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Chronic hypertension and heart attacks, both of which are more common in the diabetic population, damage and subsequently weaken the heart muscle and often lead to heart failure.

Roughly half of all heart failure patients die within five years of diagnosis, but these losses could be reduced. According to a report in the October 1997 issue of Consumer Reports on Health, timely diagnosis and newer aggressive treatment methods at all stages of the condition could prevent almost half of these deaths. A lack of proper diagnostic tests, medication and exercise are all implicated in the report as contributing to the unnecessarily high mortality rate.

The first problem noted is that some physicians do not perform echocardiogram or radionuclide ventriculogram tests. Both tests measure the heart’s pumping capacity and can identify early heart failure when the outward symptoms aren’t clear.

Once heart failure is diagnosed, many physicians fail to prescribe ACE inhibitors that allow the heart to pump more effectively by dilating the blood vessels. ACE inhibitors like enalapril (Vasotec) and captopril (Capoten) can reduce mortality from heart failure by 16 to 36 percent.

Finally, physicians often shy away from telling patients to exercise for fear that it could worsen the condition or overwhelm a weak heart. However, the report claims that moderate aerobic exercise (like walking) can reduce the shortness of breath and fatigue many heart failure patients experience that limits their overall physical activity.

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