Okay, once again it is time for me to lobby the medical community about the inappropriate term “heart failure”. Why is it an inappropriate term? Because virtually every website I can find says that your heart doesn’t really fail. So there is no logic in calling something a failure that doesn’t really fail – zero logic, none, zilch.
Here are just a few comments about the inapt nature of the term. From the Cardio Smart website: “Contrary to how it sounds, heart failure does not mean that your heart has stopped beating.” Or from the British Heart Foundation: “Having heart failure doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped working, but that your heart needs some support to help it work better.”
Or here is another one from the American Heart Association: “The term “heart failure” makes it sound like the heart is no longer working at all and there’s nothing that can be done. Actually, heart failure means that the heart isn’t pumping as well as it should be.” Maybe one of the biggest understatements when it comes to the term “heart failure” is on the Cleveland Clinic website. It says: “The term "heart failure" can be frightening. It does not mean the heart has "failed" or stopped working. It means the heart does not pump as well as it should.”
Wow – I’ll say it’s frightening. I think if you walked up to a stranger on the street and said that one of the most, if not the most, important organ in his or her body had failed you would see a reaction of terror. I’m sure the person would be on the iPhone to 911. So why don’t we stop fueling fear and find a more apt term? Maybe the medical community is too busy thinking of ways to cure the pumping issue to give it much thought – something I totally understand. I like that efforts are being put in trying to make my heart better. But I’ve also got an active and resourceful mind, and lots of retiree time on my hands. So let me help you.
Having been a type A all of my life, I live for achievements. I was probably the only person at work who really liked the beginning of a performance rating period so that I could set new performance goals to achieve. I always remember one of my Mom’s favorite things to say when I was a child was “Can’t never did.” That saying was made for my Mom, the model of persistence who never met an obstacle she could not conquer. I like to think I am my Mom’s daughter, and will persevere when it comes to any obstacle. But alas, I haven’t seemed to crack the code on conquering heart failure.
In fact, the performance of my heart in the last few years has been lackluster, to say the least. The ejection fraction continues to suck and several of the valves are leaky. Not a recipe for success. In fact, the ejection fraction, which plummeted at one time to 15 or so, meant that my heart was not pumping anywhere near as well as it should have been. In other words, this Type A fanatic was in possession of a sadly underperforming heart.
What is another word for underperforming? Try underachieving. It’s not that my heart and I have failed, but my heart has clearly not met the bar on pumping. And it’s setting a bad example for other organs in my body, as it sits around in its flabby, dilated state refusing to pump up to speed. So I am a Type A in sad possession of an underachieving heart.
So why can’t doctors use that as a medical term? The patient has underachiever’s heart. Isn’t it a lot better than “heart failure” – because it least gives the patient hope that if you follow some performance goals, like taking meds and exercising and following the right diet, your heart could start to achieve!
Okay, so you don’t like my term. I respect that. I may be an overachiever, but six years of living with heart failure have made me accept defeat a little more graciously. But it hasn’t stopped me from trying to get you to find and use a better term – even if it is not mine. So have you thought about out-sourcing the development of medical terminology to a group that has a way with words? A group that has a successful track record for coining terms that capture the public’s attention and easily become part of accepted, general terminology?
Who might that be? Well what about the people who come up with weather terminology? I don’t remember being impressed by weather terms when I was growing up, but in the media age with more coverage on weather events, forecasters have found their element in inventing some really descriptive terms. Who can forget: bombogenesis, bomb cyclone, Snowmageddon, conversational snow, stout capping inversion? The commonality of all these terms is they are inventive, descriptive and get – make that grab – your attention.
So we need them to dream up a better term to describe heart failure. But it has to be a term that grabs your attention. Because right now, I can guarantee you that the majority of people in this country do not know what heart failure is. Maybe if there was a term that seized their attention, they would look it up – just like we immediately go to the web to find out what the heck a bomb cyclone is. Once they find a link to a site like the American Heart Association or the Cleveland Clinic or the Mayo Clinic, they would start to read and perhaps the light would go on. Maybe they have some of the symptoms that are mentioned and would decide to visit a cardiologist.
I know my doctors long for the day when I will quit complaining about the term “heart failure”. Well dream on because it ain’t happening. There comes a time when outdated, nonsensical medical terms need to bite the dust. Other really silly terms have gone the way of the dinosaur.
Think I’m kidding? Well just take a look at the website Berkleywellness.com, a website maintained by the University of Berkley, California. There is an article entitled “Old Medical Terms: You Have What?” One of the outdated medical terms that we replaced a while back is consumption. What is that you say? Well according to the article, the poet John Keats and the fictional heroine of LaBoheme died of this disease. It is better known today as tuberculosis, which sounds more like a valid medical disease. I mean the only time I hear the word consumption now is if someone has eaten something, or someone is accused of overdoing materialism, as in conspicuous consumption.
Another is the term lockjaw, which according to the article: “Like many outdated terms, this one describes a symptom: A severe spasm that locks up the jaw muscles. The cause, what we now call tetanus. Spread by bacteria commonly found in soil, tetanus affects the nervous system.”
Or how about this familiar term - dropsy? The article says: “the word dropsy refers to swelling caused by the accumulation of fluid. Today doctors call it edema. There are many causes of edema. One of the most serious is heart failure”.
I think this is an excellent article, pointing out the obvious fact that some of these terms are no longer appropriate (if in fact they ever were). The only thing I would ask the authors to add to this article is the plea that the term heart failure also be canned and replaced with a new one.
I know that my appeals may fall on deaf ears. But my heart has indeed not failed, and as anyone who knows me can testify, my heart still plays an active role in every matter that I undertake. So rest assured medical community, that I will be persistent in my continuing effort to get a better term for heart failure!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.