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The weak heart mainly affects older people
Shortness of breath is not always harmless. Rather, it can often be a sign of a weak heart. Older people in particular are affected by this weakness, heart failure.
Shortness of breath when idle is a warning sign Slight shortness of breath after hard physical work or during sport is basically nothing unusual. The heart, the largest human muscle, is then occupied with increased pumping power. But if you get less air when the patient is at rest or the heart starts racing, this can indicate heart failure. In most cases, heart failure occurs after a heart attack, due to a heart defect or a narrowing of the vessels. Long-standing high blood pressure or an inflammation of the heart muscle also favor permanent damage to the heart.
Heart failure is usually not taken seriously. Nationwide, the number of people affected is estimated at two to three million. According to the German Heart Foundation, almost 400,000 people are hospitalized in Germany every year because of this dangerous heart disease. About 50,000 patients die from the consequences. The number is so high because cardiac insufficiency is usually not taken seriously, says cardiologist Michael Böhm, Saarland University Hospital and a member of the advisory board of the German Heart Foundation. He warns: "Patients do not notice the symptoms such as shortness of breath, poor performance, water retention on the joints or postpone it to old age."
Recognizing the disease at an early stage Even general practitioners would sometimes pay too little attention to the symptoms. Böhm explains: "Initially only great efforts cause complaints, later small ones too." It is therefore particularly important to be aware of the disease at an early stage, otherwise the heart's pumping power will decrease further. Doctors can diagnose heart failure using an ultrasound scan or an electrocardiogram (EKG). “But there is another type of heart failure that is less easy to identify. It occurs when the heart is no longer so elastic. When pumping, the heart must contract and relax for a moment. If the heart is too stiff, the blood cannot absorb enough blood during the relaxation phase. This type of heart failure can be diagnosed by measuring hormones in the blood, ”says Dr. Reinhard Jochheim, specialist in internal medicine at the Blankenstein Clinic in Hattingen, North Rhine-Westphalia.
Older people more affected In this country, 45 to 55 year olds suffer less than one percent from heart failure. Two to five percent of those aged 65 to 75 and almost ten percent of those over 80 are affected. Nevertheless, it is not a purely typical sign of aging. The heart specialist Böhm also points out that the weakness of the heart is rather caused by other diseases, especially high blood pressure. "Chronic pressure on the heart can lead to thickening of the heart muscle," says Böhm. In addition, he could lose elasticity and thus pumping power.
Sport is one of the best medicines "Of course, treatment of basic diseases such as high blood pressure is needed," says Böhm. Sometimes surgery or other measures are necessary, but one of the best medicines is sport. In principle, if you have a heart failure, exercise can help. Böhm also believes that those affected should move because their hearts are weak. With the help of dosed training, the heart learns to work economically and to make more blood available to the body again. Interval training is helpful, for example on a bicycle ergometer. Nordic walking, hiking or cross-country skiing are other suitable sports. "Those affected should consider with their cardiologist how they can strengthen their bodies with training," said Böhm.
Care programs are being developed Anyone suffering from cardiac muscle weakness must watch their illness closely in any case. For example, an increase in weight of two kilos overnight can indicate a dangerous accumulation of water in the body and a doctor must be consulted. Medical care programs are also being developed to avoid frequent hospitalization. This is done via telemedicine, among other things, whereby the patients record their medical values at home and send the data to the doctor. Böhm explains: "How valuable these concepts are must first be shown by scientific studies."
Heart weeks in November Prevention is still the best method. "The risk factors for heart disease are still smoking, poor nutrition and lack of exercise," said Böhm. The German Heart Foundation is also concerned with getting these problems under control. For their heart weeks, from the first to the thirtieth of November, there are more than 1,000 high-quality lectures and seminars on the subject of heart failure. (ad)