What We Need to Know About Heart Failure, and Why

What We Need to Know About Heart Failure, and Why

Written by Binu Koirala, Ruth-Alma Turkson-Ocran, Bunmi Ogungbe, Samuel Byiringiro, Erin Spaulding, Reiko Asano, Sabrina Elias, Diana Baptiste, Yvonne Commodore-Mensah

It is estimated that 1 in 5 people are at risk for heart failure, affecting over 6 million people in the U.S. and at least 26 million people worldwide.

It’s a significant problem both in the U.S. and globally. Since Heart Failure Awareness week is recognized from February 14-20, the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing’s CardioMetabolic Health Interest Group is taking the time to spread awareness. Read on for the facts on heart failure.

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a heart condition that occurs when the heart muscle cannot pump blood as well as it should, to meet the normal needs of the body, and is often due to high blood pressure and diabetes that is not controlled. It is more common among people aged 65 years and older, however, heart failure may also occur at younger ages, which occurs disproportionately among Black American populations. People of all ages to understand the risk for developing heart failure and take steps to help prevent it.

Who is at risk?

People with underlying cardiovascular conditions are at higher risk for developing heart failure. Most common risk factors for heart failure include high blood pressure, heart attack, damage of heart muscle and valves, blood fats depositing on artery walls, diabetes, obesity, abnormal heart structures from birth, and a family history.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of heart failure may not always be present and can be difficult to detect. Mild to severe symptoms of heart failure could range from shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness, foot, ankle, and leg swelling, dry hacking/constant coughing, chest pain, lack of appetite, and very rapid weight gain because of fluid build-up in the body.

You can manage heart failure with lifestyle changes

Being diagnosed with heart failure might be challenging.  Making self-care a priority and engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors will help manage heart failure and improve quality of life. This looks like eating a diet that is heart healthy and low in salt, exercising regularly, weighing yourself every day, and following the medication plan you and your health care provider agreed on.

People with heart failure might also have other existing conditions, for example high blood pressure and diabetes. Hence, it’s critical to for heart failure patients to consult with their care providers regular and follow the treatment plan.

Heart failure and COVID-19

People living with heart failure may have weaker immune systems and therefore have a higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms and complications. Older people who have additional chronic illnesses are also at increased risk of getting COVID-19 because they have more health care needs. for example they might need more visits with the health care provider and rely on others to receive care. That’s why physical distancing and other recommended precautions for COVID-19 are vital for people with heart failure.

Cardiovascular organizations like the American Heart Association and Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association develop tools and resources to help health care providers, patients and families to learn more about heart failure.

Learn more:


Binu Koirala, PhD, MGS, RN is an Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. Her research expertise includes cardiovascular disease, palliative care, and care of patients with chronic and complex disease conditions. 


Ruth-Alma Turkson-Ocran, PhD, MPH, RN, FNP-BC is a nurse scientist and postdoctoral research fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is also a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner. She is currently funded by the American Heart Association Strategically Focused Obesity Research Network. Prior to receiving a PhD from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, she received a Masters in Nursing (MSN) and Masters in Public Health (MPH) in Health Promotion/Behavioral Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). She is also a graduate of Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO where she obtained her Associate and Bachelor of Science degrees in Nursing. She is a member of the Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) Honor Society of Nurses, the Preventative Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA), and the American Heart Association (AHA).


Bunmi Ogungbe, MPH, RN is a PhD Student at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. She holds a Masters degree in Public Health, and has worked was on the African Immigrants Health Study (AIHS) led by Dr. Yvonne Commodore-Mensah. Her dissertation is focused on examining the cardiovascular consequences of COVID-19. She currently works with the Johns Hopkins-Resolve To Save Lives (RTSL) initiative collaborative team on team-based hypertension care and medication adherence in low and middle-income countries.  She also works with the recruitment innovation unit of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (ICTR). She is a current Johns Hopkins Global Health Equity Scholar.


Samuel Byiringiro MS, RN is a second year PhD Student at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing and a Master’s degree in Global Health Delivery. He has worked at Partners In Health as a Quality Improvement Advisor to the rural health facilities of Rwanda to prevent maternal and neonatal mortality. He provides technical support to the Community Collaboration Core of the Institute of Clinical and Translational Science at JHU to promote the community engagement in research. His research interests are to explore the health system determinants of cardiovascular health outcomes; health systems strengthening through quality improvement; and community engagement in research.


Erin Spaulding, PhD, BSN, RN is a postdoctoral research fellow at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her research focuses on the delivery of digital health interventions in the acute care setting for patients with cardiovascular disease to improve behavioral and health outcomes. Her most recent work was on the Myocardial infarction, COmbined-device, Recovery Enhancement (MiCORE) study (Principal Investigator: Dr. Seth Martin). Prior to her current position, she was an intensive care unit nurse at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and later earned her PhD from Johns Hopkins University.


Reiko Asano, PhD, RN, is a postdoctoral fellow. Her research focuses on heart failure and palliative care. She is interested in improving end of life care, utilizing multidisciplinary approaches, developing and implementing policies to improve health outcomes and quality of life in heart failure and other disease populations.


Building on her background as a former consultant for the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), Sabrina Elias’s PhD research focuses on shared decision making among patients with hypertension. At PAHO/WHO her work on Latin America and the Caribbean focused on interprofessional education, nursing education, and advanced practice nursing. Based on this and other previous experiences, Sabrina came to appreciate the importance of multiethnic perspectives in health. Racial and ethnic disparities in hypertension prevalence and control persist. Understanding differences in shared decision making practices and its impact on hypertension control in multiethnic groups is essential to improving health outcomes. Therefore, Sabrina’s PhD research uses a mixed-methods approach to examine shared decision making from the perspectives of multiethnic patients with hypertension. Research results will inform the development of culturally congruent interventions to promote hypertension control and reduce racial/ethnic disparities in hypertension treatment.


Diana Baptiste, DNP, MSN, RN, CNE is an Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. A registered nurse for more than 19 years, she specializes in cardiovascular health care and prevention in underserved populations. Her research and scholarship are focused on improving self-care behaviors among adults living with cardiovascular disease. In Sigma Nursing, she is the immediate past president of the Nu Beta at-Large chapter and currently serves as North America Region 12 coordinator.

Yvonne Commodore-Mensah, PhD, MHS, RN, FAHA, FPCNA


Yvonne Commodore-Mensah, PhD, MHS, RN, FAHA, FPCNA, FAAN is an Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins Schools of Nursing with a joint appointment in the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is also faculty at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity. As a nurse and cardiovascular nurse epidemiologist, her research program seeks to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease among African-descent populations locally (United States) and globally (sub-Saharan Africa) through epidemiological methods and with a nursing lens.  She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, American Heart Association (AHA), and a recipient of the 2016 AHA Martha N. Hill New Investigator Award. She is a Fellow and Board Member of the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association. She served on the writing committee of the 2019 American College of Cardiology/AHA Clinical Performance and Quality Measures for Adults with High Blood Pressure. She is currently a member of the organizing committee of the National Hypertension Control Roundtable®.

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