Heart disease is considered the top cause of death in the United States, killing 655,000 Americans each year, while around 6.2 million American adults are estimated to have heart failure.
Patients can live with these problems for many years, but it is important to know the signs that the end of their life is approaching so you can seek proper help via hospice.
What Is Heart Failure?
Heart failure is a term that is used to describe signs indicating that the heart is not pumping blood throughout the body as efficiently as it could be. This may be caused by high blood pressure, the heart muscle disease cardiomyopathy, or damage to the heart muscle such as that caused by a heart attack.
Other potential causes include congenital heart disease, heart valve issues, abnormal heart rhythm, certain types of chemotherapy, viral infections impacting the heart muscle, and excessive alcohol or recreational drug use.
There are two general types of heart failure. Chronic heart failure is when a person experiences heart failure as a long-term condition, while acute heart failure comes on suddenly or occurs when the symptoms of someone with chronic heart failure suddenly get worse.
Heart failure symptoms include fatigue, breathlessness, and swelling of the legs, feet, abdomen or ankles due to fluid retention.
Signs A Heart Failure Patient Is Near End of Life
Learn more below about some of the main physical symptoms of heart failure at the end of life.
This distressing symptom is caused by a fluid buildup that backs up into the patient’s lungs.
Although it is a very common symptom, it is still a good idea to rule out whether breathlessness is caused by something else, such as anxiety, anemia or a chest infection.
Sitting upright with support can help patients feel more comfortable, as can opening a window or using a fan to move air around the room. Oral hygiene is also very important at this point because breathing difficulties can cause an uncomfortably dry mouth.
Pain relief medication can be used, including opioids like morphine or non-opioid medications like acetaminophen. Therapies such as aromatherapy, acupuncture and reflexology might also be used to help patients relax and alleviate their pain.
Depression And Anxiety
Some patients who are nearing the end of their lives might also experience depression and anxiety. Hospice care teams can provide patients with emotional care, and support solutions like cognitive behavioral therapy and medication might also help. Some patients respond well to activities that help them feel better, like heading outside for some fresh air, reading a book or listening to music.
Peripheral edema is a very noticeable buildup of fluid in the ankles or lower legs, although it can appear other places as well. This swelling occurs because the heart is no longer able to pump blood efficiently.
An extreme feeling of tiredness that does not seem to be caused by exertion and does not appear to be relieved by resting, fatigue is considered one of the most common symptoms of heart failure. Nevertheless, it’s important to rule out other potential causes, such as anemia, sleeping problems, depression, or overexertion.
Anorexia or Cardiac Cachexia
Patients may also experience profound weight loss, a loss of muscle and fat tissue and a loss of appetite. It may be helpful for them to eat smaller and more frequent meals, focusing on food that is high in calories and proteins and supplement drinks to ensure they get as much nutrition as possible.
How Does Heart Failure Impact People At End of Life?
Heart failure can have a serious psychological impact on people, leading to feelings like worry, sadness or anger. Patients may experience a mix of good and bad days, and the lack of control over their limitations can be very frustrating. As the disease advances, symptoms can fluctuate dramatically, which makes evaluating how long the patient is expected to live more challenging.
How Can Hospice Help Heart Disease and Heart Failure Patients?
Many patients will have lived with congestive heart failure for a long time before reaching the point where hospice is considered. It is important to understand that even though treatment can no longer be given to lengthen a person’s life significantly, there are still ways that their quality of life and comfort can be increased, and that is where hospice can prove valuable.
Hospice care is given to patients who are expected to live for six months or less. Although it may be difficult to determine just how long patients with this condition will live, worsening symptoms and deliberately turning down the opportunity to get life-extending treatment are both signs it is time to give hospice serious consideration.
It is important not to wait too long to contact hospice; most families report that they wish they had started it sooner after seeing how much it helps. If you suspect your loved one is ready for hospice, talk to your doctor and request a hospice evaluation.
Reach Out to The Hospice Team
If you or a loved one is living with heart disease or heart failure, get in touch with Harbor Light Hospice to find out more about their supportive hospice care services aimed at increasing comfort and quality of life.