Barbara has won more than a dozen awards for her consumer health writing.
Her articles have been featured in publications such as USA Today, Reader's Digest, Consumer Reports and HealthDay.com.
An excerpt from Barbara's USA Today article on
New Treatments for Heart Failure
Heart Failure: No Longer a Death Sentence
By Barbara Boughton
Twenty years ago, a diagnosis of heart failure was a likely death sentence and a devastating one. Death was frequently sure and swift, and patients lived out their lives with overwhelming fatigue and shortness of breath, making even the simplest of exertions difficult. Fifty nine percent of men and 45 percent of women died within the first five years after diagnosis.
“The outlook for heart failure patients used to be worse than for patients with metastatic cancer,” says Karol E. Watson, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine at the UCLA division of cardiology. But now the picture for heart failure patients is vastly different, and some patients diagnosed with the disease may have active lives that are almost as long as those who do not have the disease, according to Dr. Watson. “Modern treatments for heart failure can actually improve heart function so much that many patients have a normal quality of life, and a normal life expectancy,” Dr. Watson says.
In the last 20 years, the gains in the treatment of heart failure have been dramatic. Mortality from the disease has been cut by two-thirds in patients who are fully treated with new therapies, including combinations of several different types of medications and/or devices, says Gregg C. Fonarow, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine at UCLA and co-chief of the UCLA Divison of Cardiology. Hospitalizations for heart failure—usually a sign of worsening of the disease—have also been cut by roughly 30% since 1998, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2011.
“Heart failure can be a scary diagnosis. But patients with heart failure have reason to be hopeful,” Dr. Fonarow says. “The kind of improvements in survival we’ve seen with the use of the best currently available treatments for heart failure is simply unrivaled in modern cardiovascular medicine,” he adds.
“The medications for heart failure work well in conjunction with each other, and their benefits outweigh the risks, but they need to be prescribed carefully and patients need to be monitored regularly,” Dr. Fonarow says. “The challenge for patients is that they often have to follow a complex regimen for their health, including medications for heart failure as well as other accompanying conditions such as diabetes, and have to make lifestyle changes that are not always easy,” he adds.
Heart failure is a condition is which the heart becomes weakened and cannot fill up with or pump out enough blood to meet the body’s needs.5 Because heart failure affects the body’s system for regulating salt and water retention, fluid can build-up and caused swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, liver, abdomen and veins in the neck. Depending on the stage at which it is diagnosed, heart failure also causes shortness of breath upon exertion and even at rest, and fatigue.3 Some people with heart failure experience arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythms (irregular heartbeats), which can be life-threatening.
The leading causes of heart failure include coronary artery disease, in which plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries (which supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart), narrowing them and limiting the flow of blood to the heart. High blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are also important risk factors for heart failure.
The mainstays of treatment for heart failure are three different classes of medications that alter the deterioration of heart function by stabilizing, improving, or in some cases reversing it, according to Dr. Fonarow. These types of medications are ACE inhibitors (angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors) and aldosterone inhibitors. Both these types of medications address the abnormal activation of neuroendocrine systems in the body that occur in heart failure which stress and help damage the heart.1,3Beta blockers, long a treatment for high blood pressure, are also part of the vital triad of medications for heart failure patients; they counter the abnormal release of adrenaline (or norepinephrine) in heart failure, which act to stimulate what are called beta receptors in the nervous system and heart. When beta receptors are stimulated, the heart beats harder and faster, , eventually causing damage.
Yet because these medications need to be taken in combination and all have side effects, managing heart failure—for both doctor and patient—can be a complex process. Add to that the often demanding lifestyle modifications that heart failure patients need to make to improve their health (very little salt, no alcohol, monitoring their daily weight and whatever exercise they can manage) may make adhering to treatment seem overwhelming. That’s why good communication with your doctor—starting at the time of diagnosis—is vital. A good support system—made up of family or close friends who can help you make decisions about your healthcare—is also important, Dr. Fonarow says.
Heart failure patients often also need close monitoring and regular follow-up visits and tests—which can range from weekly to several times a year—and healthcare provided by a team of knowledgeable health clinicians, including heart specialists, nurses, nurse educators and even nutritionists. This clinical team can monitor the heart failure patient’s improvement or deterioration and watch for side effects from medications, which can range from damaging effects on the kidney to dizziness and low blood pressure.
Barbara's health articles include:
Articles on how to assess your risk for cancer via educational Web sites; the benefits of spirituality and meditation for cancer patients; new treatments for heart disease, the psychological fallout of psoriasis; sun protection with sunscreen; the painful aftereffects of cancer and its treatments, coping with job stress and burn-out, and the pros and cons of vitamins and supplements.
As well as national consumer health magazines such as Reader's Digest, she has written for a wide range of patient magazines, including Cancer Fighters Thrive, the magazine of the Cancer Treatment Centeres of America and BP Hope, a magazine for patients with bipolar disorder and their families.
To find out more about Barbara's expereince in writing consumer health articles, contact her at email@example.com.
Copyright Barbara Boughton. All Rights reserved.