Heart failure: Dr. Oz explains this medical condition that affects millions of Americans

Korin Miller

Heart failure is more common than most people realize. Currently, one in five Americans live with the condition.

“The symptoms can be subtle,” Mehmet Oz, MD, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. People often mistakenly believe that heart failure is a death sentence, but Oz says that isn’t the case. “Most people of the 5 million Americans who have heart failure have relative mild versions of it and the medical treatment is unbelievably effective,” Oz says.

But while you may have heard of heart failure in the past, you’re probably a little fuzzy on the details. Here’s what you need to know, plus how to spot the signs.

What is heart failure?

“Heart failure is when your heart is no longer able to pump enough blood to your organs,” Oz explains. Your heart has to twist in order to empty blood out, but if there is damage to an artery or if one of the valves aren’t working, your heart is unable to work effectively, he says.

What are the symptoms of heart failure?

They’re not always obvious. “A lot of people don’t know they have heart failure because it’s sometimes subtle,” Oz says. However, he notes shortness of breath is a “classic” symptom, along with feeling tired and worn out. “If you’re having shortness of breath, especially during activities that didn’t use to bother you, please go see a doc,” Oz says. “It’s simple and easy to diagnose and often lifesaving to treat.”

How is heart failure diagnosed?

Typically, it’s done with an echocardiogram. “It’s a noninvasive, no-radiation simple test,” Oz says. During an echocardiogram, your doctor will “put a probe on your chest and, with it, see how well the heart squeezes blood and how thick the heart is, whether it can relax and let blood in,” Oz says.

How is heart failure treated?

Typically doctors will want to lower your blood pressure and slow down your heart. “Lowering your blood pressure takes the pressure off your heart,” Oz says. Then, your doctor will want to lower your heart rate. “The faster you heart beats, the more of a problem it is,” he says. “If your heart is beating 100 times a minute, we can slow it down to 70 times a minute, which an athlete’s heart naturally does. Then, we can get your heart to beat further and longer.”

Your doctor will also want to try to look for causes of your heart failure that are reversible, like a blockage of a critical artery or a valve that isn’t working well. “Find what’s fixable and fix it,” Oz says. “Once you’re done doing all that stuff, just nourish the muscle of the heart so it lasts as long as possible.”