What You Don't Know About Heart Failure Matters This Week

02/10/2017 03:50 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2018

Knowledge is power. We've all heard it. We all know it; but, do we really understand the impact a little knowledge can have on our lives?

As heart health advocates and experts around the country kick off National Heart Failure Awareness Week, I am reminded of the importance of bringing attention to the disease that affects 6.5 million Americans, including my Mom. Heart failure, which occurs when the heart muscle is weakened and cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs for blood and oxygen, is a debilitating and life-threatening condition.

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American Heart Association

In November, I shared with you here my very personal story about my Mom's journey with heart failure, or "HF," and how we are taking steps to better manage her condition. I look back on our journey and I am so proud of her - of us - and how much we've learned so that we can not only improve her quality of life, but so we can make a difference in the lives of others. One of the biggest game changers for us was learning how to properly recognize and stay on top of the signs and symptoms of my Mom's HF - and as part of the Rise Above Heart Failure initiative with the American Heart Association, nationally supported by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, I want to share some important information for you to carry with you not just this week, but the whole year, and the rest of your very precious lives.

I'll be honest, it took a lot of education and support from my Mom's care team. But after getting a handle on everything to look out for, we gained a new sense of control. My Mom will tell you how much of a relief it was to feel empowered. We want others to be empowered too.

While I don't claim to be an expert on heart failure, as my Mom's caregiver and "advocate-in-chief" for over a decade, there are a few things about heart failure that I've learned along the way that I'd like to share:

  • There are early warning signs. When my Mom was diagnosed with heart failure, we were shocked. We now realize that some of the things we chalked up to "old age," such as feeling tired or light-headed and experiencing shortness of breath, were actually warning signs of her heart problem.
  • Know what to look out for. Some common signs of heart failure are trouble breathing, fatigue, swelling of the feet and ankles, persistent coughing or lack of appetite. Learn more about these and other signs at RiseAboveHF.org.

Know what to look out for. Some common signs of heart failure are trouble breathing, fatigue, swelling of the feet and ankles, persistent coughing or lack of appetite. Learn more about these and other signs at RiseAboveHF.org.

  • Simple interruptions in your everyday life could mean more. Like my Mom, you may feel winded after doing things you normally had no problem with, like walking up the stairs or tying your shoes. Shortness of breath can be one of the tell-tale signs of HF, and can also be apparent if you can't sleep comfortably without a few pillows. Don't take this lying down - you should talk to your doctor.
  • It's not as hard as it sounds. Trust me, I know this sounds scary - but there are resources you can use, like this Symptom Tracker from the American Heart Association, to stay on top of how you or your loved one is feeling. I check in with my Mom every day to see how she's doing, where her energy level is at, how's she breathing, does anything feel "off." We monitor her weight regularly - she weighs herself every day, and if she notices a weight gain of more than two to three pounds in 24 hours, we know it's something to call her doctor about.
  • Speak up and know when to contact a doctor. Working closely with my Mom's doctors, notifying them of any changes in her symptoms and sharing any of her concerns has helped us to stay on track with her medications and lifestyle changes. Use the resources on RiseAboveHF.org, and keep an open dialogue with your doctors and loved ones. Lean on them to help you figure out the best way to stay on top of your sign and symptom management, and don't be afraid to ask questions.

Over time, my Mom and I have learned as much as we can about heart failure and have become part of an incredible, supportive community. We continue to arm ourselves with information and take it one day at a time. Being informed helps us to stay positive and take control, and I'm so proud to share our learnings during National Heart Failure Awareness Week to help us all rise above HF.

To learn more about HF, share experiences and access tools and resources to rise above heart failure, go to www.RiseAboveHF.org and use #RiseAboveHF on social media.

Queen Latifah is an award-winning actress, singer, songwriter and producer. She is a spokesperson for the American Heart Association's Rise Above Heart Failure initiative, which seeks to spread the word about heart failure and to help others understand the signs and symptoms of the condition, and how to manage it. Rise Above Heart Failure is nationally supported by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation.