Former First Lady Nancy Reagan died Sunday at the age of 94 from congestive heart failure, a leading cardiac killer that contributes to 300,000 deaths a year. But more people could be saved from the disease with new treatments and medications, a top cardiac expert days.
“Congestive heart failure is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.,” Dr. Chauncey Crandall, tells Newsmax Health. “More people are developing it as our population ages, but there are effective ways to treat it that aren’t always utilized.”
Congestive heart failure, known simply also as “heart failure,” is not a disease in itself but it is the name given to the collection of symptoms that occur when the heart becomes too weak to pump the full supply of blood the body needs. In some cases, it can also occur when the heart does not become weakened, but stiffens, which also impedes its function to pump blood.
According to the American Heart Association, 5.3 million Americans have congestive heart failure, 660,000 new cases are diagnosed year each year, and the rate is increasing as the population grows older. It is also a leading cause of disability and hospitalization.
“Heart failure usually occurs in people over the age of 65, but younger people can be affected as well,” says Crandall, author of the Heart Health Report
newsletter. “Heart attacks are a chief cause of the damage that leads to heart failure, and, as the death rate from heart attack has dropped, more people are living with congestive heart failure.
“High blood pressure is another leading cause of heart failure. High blood pressure makes the heart work harder, and as it does so, it can become weaker. Other leading causes include diabetes, cardiac valve disease and arrhythmias, or irregular heart beats. All of these conditions can result in the heart weakening.”
Although people are surviving longer with heart failure, the prognosis still remains low, with only one-in-three people diagnosed with serious heart failure surviving more than five years, says the American Heart Association (AHA), which has likened congestive heart failure to cancer in terms of prognosis.
“The simple truth is that cardiologists don’t like dealing with heart failure. Successful heart failure treatment requires time and patience, two commodities that doctors very often lack. The result is that patients are treated in a slipshod fashion, inadequately monitored, and their condition deteriorates,” says Crandall, who uses a combination of cardiac drugs, including diuretics, ACE inhibitors, and beta blockers to strengthen the heart.
“Years ago, diuretics, known also as “water pills,” were the only treatment we had to treat heart failure. They eliminated the body’s excess fluid, but did nothing to improve the heart function. Diuretics are still a mainstay of heart failure treatment, but we use them in combination with other medications to strengthen the heart,” says Crandall.
“If more patients with heart failure were adequately treated, they could live out long lives,” he adds, a contention with which the AHA agrees, saying that at least 68,000 people a year could be saved with proper treatment.
There are also new drugs being approved in the fight against heart failure, the first time new medications have been added to the cardiology arsenal in 20 years. In July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a drug called Entresto (sacubitril/valsartan) on a fast-track basis after a clinical trial found it significantly reduced the rate of death and hospitalization from the ailment.
Earlier in the year, the FDA approved Corlanor (ivabradine), a French drug works by slowing the heart rate, to help relieve stress on the organ, giving Amgen the rights to license it in the U.S. The drug has been sold in Europe for several years.
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