Queen Latifah and UCLA cardiologist discuss why heart failure is a family affair

Queen Latifah and UCLA's Dr. Karol Watson joined together on World Heart Day to educate the public on living with heart failure. Latifah's mother suffers from the condition.

More than 6 million Americans live with heart failure. Including Queen Latifah’s mother.

That’s why the award-winning actress, singer, songwriter and producer recently joined UCLA cardiologist Dr. Karol Watson and the American Heart Association on World Heart Day for a Facebook Live event held at UCLA.

The goal? Raise awareness of the AHA’s “Rise Above Heart Failure” campaign and talk about how patients and caregivers can help manage the disease.

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can’t pump efficiently to get enough blood to the organs. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, fatigue and swelling of the feet, ankles and legs.

“Once we got over the shock of my mom’s diagnosis, we started to learn that there are a lot of things we could do,” said Latifah, whose mother, Rita Owens, was in her early 50’s when she was diagnosed with heart failure ten years ago. “We learned about medications she could take and how we could make simple lifestyle changes. We became educated and changed our entire family’s lifestyle and her heart began to improve.”

Watson, a professor of medicine/cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, noted that heart failure doesn’t affect just one person, it affects the whole family.

“But the good thing is that there are so many proactive steps that patients can take, like managing salt, diet and activity. Having family rally around the patient to support them is important,” said Watson, who is also co-director of the UCLA Program in Preventive Cardiology, and director of the UCLA Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Health Program.

Whether it’s a family member or yourself, here are some key things about managing heart failure that Latifah and Watson discussed:

Notice a change? Get it checked out by your doctor.

People don’t always notice the signs of heart failure or they may mistake them as signs of other conditions or simply old age.

“A lot of people mistake the signs of heart failure as just getting older; I know my mom did,” Latifah said. “But if you have symptoms like feeling short of breath when you bend down to put on your shoes, or have trouble sleeping at night without a bunch of pillows – don’t think ‘old age’. Think ‘heart failure’ and be sure to talk to your doctor.”

Watson added that If you see a definite change in your activity or if you’re not able to do the things you used to do, then definitely get it checked out.

“We are all at-risk for heart failure,” said Watson. “No one is untouched by this disease and we have to consider ourselves potentially at risk.”

Low-salt diet is important

One of the biggest contributors to heart failure is too much salt in the diet, and it’s one of the first things a doctor will advise patients to cut back on.

“Too much salt makes us retain water and makes our heart have to work harder to try and get rid of it,” explained Watson.

For most heart failure patients, salt intake should be limited to one teaspoon, or no more than 1,500 milligrams, daily.

Latifah said she and her family had learned to use less salt.

“We find the flavor is in the food. Once you start to adjust, if you start putting salt on your food, everything will taste salty to you,” she said.

Watson noted the UCLA preventative cardiology program has a motto that encompasses the essential components to healthy heart and lifestyle: Move frequently, eat thoughtfully, connect deeply.

“We should all be physically active, including those with heart failure. We should strive to think about what we eat—we won’t always be perfect, but we can try to eat the right things and limit the bad,” said Watson, “And, it’s so important to maintain strong social connections with family and friends.”

Latifah summed it up by saying, “Our heart is our life and we need this thing to beat so we can live.”

Watch the video of the Facebook Live event with Latifah and Dr. Watson.

AHA’s Rise Above Heart Failure is nationally supported by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. Latifah and her mother have joined the initiative to spread the word about heart failure and help others understand the symptoms and how to manage it.

Visit www.heart.ucla.edu for more information on UCLA Health’s heart services.

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