Here’s What You Should Know Before You Go Back For Thanksgiving Seconds

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Apart from giving thanks for the past year's blessings, Thanksgiving is a holiday where people tend to eat and drink in excess. Between the sweet potatoes with marshmallows, turkey, string bean casserole, and more, we don't blame you for wanting to fill your plate, two or three times, but when we sat with Haute MD expert Dr. Ryan Houk of Naples Heart Rhythm Specialists, we learned of such a fact. As a physician in the hospital, Dr. Houk tends to see an increase in hospital admissions during the holiday season due to overeating and drinking. So, before you go back for and indulge in seconds, here's what you should know. 

How does Thanksgiving relate to heart failure?

Eating traditional Thanksgiving dinner foods sounds lovely, but the salt content it comes with can be too much for patients at risk or with a heart failure diagnosis. Top that off with the fluids; the wine, the beer, the apple cider, and the juices, and it might be a recipe for disaster.

What should you be cognizant of when eating Thanksgiving dinner?

When eating Thanksgiving dinner, despite the food and drinks all around you, people should remember that what they eat and drink directly impacts their health. If you have heart failure or heart issues, some tips for enjoying Thanksgiving are to read the labels, don’t add salt, and avoid anything that was canned. A lot of food we eat has a very high salt content, and without knowing it, many of us consume way too much of it. When people with heart failure eat too much salt (we often recommend limiting our heart failure patients to less than 2 grams of sodium per day), it causes increased fluid retention. It raises blood pressure, both of which increase the strain on the heart, overloading the heart and causing the fluid to back up, leading to increased symptoms of heart failure.

What are the signs of heart failure?

The most common signs of heart failure are swelling of the legs, weight gain, and shortness of breath. Patients with heart failure often also describe a type of shortness of breath called orthopnea, characterized by shortness of breath when lying flat. These patients have trouble sleeping at night because they feel short of breath, and frequently need to sleep with extra pillows in order to get any rest. If you have any of these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with a cardiologist.

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What are the types of heart failure?

There are two types of heart failure. When someone mentions the word heart failure, we often think of the heart weakening, or not pumping as effectively, called systolic heart failure. However, there is another type of heart failure where the heart stiffens, and doesn’t relax properly, called diastolic heart failure. Despite there being two main types of heart failure, the symptoms of heart failure are often indistinguishable.

How does diet affect heart failure?

The salt and fluids in your diet affect heart failure tremendously. When patients have heart failure, if they eat too much salt, or drink too much fluid, they can end up in the hospital with a heart failure exacerbation. The reason is that the heart is the pump that manages the fluid/blood in the body. When people eat excess salt, they retain fluid, and their blood volume goes up. When they drink too much fluid, we traditionally like to limit heart failure patients to less than 1.5 liters of fluid per day, which also increases the fluid and blood volume the heart is responsible for pumping. When the heart can’t pump effectively, we don’t want to overload it, because then, the fluid backs up, causing weight gain, goes into the lungs, causing shortness of breath, and goes into the legs, causing swelling.

What should someone do if they think they have heart failure?

If you suspect that you may have heart failure, either due to symptoms, family history, or even fear, you should talk to your doctor. Let your doctor know if you’re experiencing symptoms like shortness of breath or swelling so that you can be pointed in the right direction. In the meantime, you can also weigh yourself and keep a daily log of your weight. If you notice a jump in weight of 2 or 3 lbs., or if you notice sustained weight gain immediately after a holiday like Thanksgiving, you might be retaining fluid. To diagnose heart failure, your doctor will recommend an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of your heart, so that we can see directly how your heart is functioning.

NHRS can be the place for you to get diagnosed and treated for heart failure. If you are interested in learning more, you can make an appointment today at Naples Heart Rhythm Specialists by calling 239-263-0849. 

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