Congestive heart failure not a death sentence


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: During the past three years, my husband, 79, has changed from being a very active man to one who does little. I take him with me to the grocery store, and he huffs and puffs as we walk the aisles. I worried about that and insisted he see a doctor. The doctor says he has congestive heart failure. Is this a death sentence? What can be done for it? — M.O.

 ANSWER: Congestive heart failure — heart failure, for short — indicates that the heart is not as strong as it was. It beats feebly. It pumps less blood with each beat. Blood backs up and “congests” the lungs and the veins. Breathlessness is one of its signs. Swollen ankles and legs are another sign. Fatigue often overwhelms patients. Their bodies are not getting the oxygen they need.

 Poor circulation through heart arteries, uncontrolled blood pressure and heart valve problems are some of the causes of congestive heart failure.

 Medicines can ease the strain on the failing heart and can improve its pumping strength. Water pills rid the body of retained fluid, another consequence of heart failure. If part of your husband’s problem is heart arteries clogged with cholesterol, a statin drug — the powerful cholesterol-lowering medicines — will be prescribed. He’ll be instructed to watch his salt intake in order to prevent fluid retention.

 Doctors usually recommend a supervised exercise program for heart failure patients. Since the condition forces patients to become less active, their muscles shrink from inactivity. Exercise helps restore pep.

 Novel therapies are sometimes employed. One such therapy is restoring the normal, synchronous contractions of the heart’s pumping chambers. That can be done with a special kind of pacemaker.

 Your husband’s not on death’s doorstep. Close cooperation with his doctor will give him many more years of active life.

 The booklet on congestive heart failure explains this complicated condition in greater detail. To obtain a copy, write: Dr. Donohue — No. 103, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Allow four weeks for delivery.

 DEAR DR. DONOHUE: In 2007, I submitted to you a letter explaining my overcoming terrifying bouts of sleep apnea and snoring. I am resubmitting it in hopes it will be of service to others.

 For years my snoring was like a chainsaw ripping through an oak tree (according to my wife). I also had apnea. I couldn’t breathe for a time. Then suddenly my body would convulse mightily for air. I had a heart attack. My doctor said if I lost weight, changed my diet and stuck to an exercise program, I wouldn’t need to have an operation. I did all. I lost 15 pounds. My wife changed our diet to one with lots of fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables. Since then I have had no snoring and no sleep apnea, and I feel better than ever. — A.S.

 ANSWER: Your story is a testimonial for what diet, weight loss and exercise can do for heart patients and sleep apnea patients. I should have submitted it for publication years ago.

 DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Am I ruining all the vitamins in vegetables by microwaving them? Two friends insist that microwaves destroy nutrients. Is that the case? — P.R.

 ANSWER: Microwaving vegetables retains more vitamins than preparing them in any other way.

 Cooking time is greatly reduced in a microwave, one element in preserving nutrients. In addition, the amount of water added to the vegetables is tiny compared with other ways of cooking. Few vitamins and nutrients leach into the water.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from