Heart failure symptoms easy to miss for unsuspecting patients

December 02, 2015 | by Ali Valika, M.D., F.A.C.C.
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

Despite the fact that heart problems run in her family, Linda Kilian of Chicago had always been healthy and active. “I have hardly been sick a day in my life. I take vitamins, try homeopathic remedies and have a great immune system,” says Linda.

However, little did she know while treating her flu/bronchitis symptoms at home in November 2013, that she would end up in the hospital for nearly three weeks.

“Over the winter, I just wasn’t getting better,” recalls Linda. “I was having trouble breathing and was starting to feel like I was gaining weight from eating healthy foods to keep my strength up. But, in reality, I was retaining fluid from heart failure.”

Linda says her water retention started out slowly, but it became more rapid as her symptoms progressed. Eventually, her brother brought her to the Elmhurst Hospital Emergency Department.

“The doctors were shocked at the amount of fluid that I had around my heart. I ended up with a pacemaker in the process,” says Linda.

Our diagnosis of Linda was that she had heart failure, which was made more challenging to address because she also had an irregular heart rhythm and low blood pressure. We used medication to treat Linda, and over time, her heart function improved.

Through the Elmhurst Hospital Heart Failure Wellness Clinic, which helps patients with cardiac-related diagnoses make the transition back to their normal lives after discharge, we helped Linda control fluid retention by putting her on a low sodium diet while also helping her manage multiple medications and her blood pressure.

“I have lost all of the 40-plus pounds of water weight that I gained throughout my ordeal,” says Linda. “As women, we tend to ignore our symptoms because we are so busy or think that we can manage them at home. In addition to getting a flu shot every year, I would tell any woman out there to check with her doctor when something doesn’t feel right, such as back pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, a cough you can’t kick and fluid retention, as these could be signs of something more serious.”

Find out if you’re at risk for heart disease. Take a free five-minute test that could save your life.

Learn more about heart care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Ali Valika, MD, is a cardiologist with Elmhurst Hospital and Midwest Heart-Advocate Medical Group.

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