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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Dr. Deborah Budge of the Intermountain Heart Institute is photographed at the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013.

SALT LAKE CITY — People are highly motivated to take care of their hearts.

It's a fact that helped drive Dr. Deborah Budge into cardiology. The treatment she prescribes can often have a significant impact on individual lives, Budge said.

"We can't make patients follow orders, but, fortunately, when patients follow them in this case, it has a direct impact on how they feel," she said.

Budge is a cardiologist with the heart failure and transplant program at Intermountain Medical Center's Heart Institute and will be participating in the Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline on Saturday.

Budge and Margaret Moses, a nurse practitioner at the institute, will answer questions from the public regarding heart health, specifically heart disease and heart failure, which kills one in every four Utahns, according to a 2009 National Vital Statistics report.

Heart failure, which is a weakened or stiff heart muscle, can be recognized in some people by a shortness of breath, which Budge said is difficult to endure.

"It's an inability to catch a full breath," she said. "Imagine what it feels like after you've exercised hard and you're breathing hard to catch your breath. It would be like feeling the same way only after just walking a flight of stairs. It's that air hunger."

Other symptoms could also include dizziness or low energy. Individuals with heart failure are often treated for upper respiratory infections or asthma prior to realizing something is wrong with their heart, Budge said.

Failure of one of the body's largest muscles, she said, can be brought about by recurrent heart attacks, which damage the muscle over time, high blood pressure, medical conditions such as diabetes, and, for some people, inherited poor genes. Sometimes, the cause of heart failure is unknown and could be due to some viral infection in the past.

Doctors first try to identify the cause of heart failure, looking for blockages, which can be fixed to restore blood flow. If it is due to high blood pressure, Budge said that can be treated with various medications.

Over time, she said, medications have been proven to improve functioning of the heart, helping people to feel better and live longer.

"Patients have to be actively engaged in self-monitoring," Budge said, adding that to improve a heart condition, individuals must weigh themselves and check their blood pressure daily, eliminate salt from their diet and monitor the amount of fluid they drink.

Heart disease, she said, can cause a person to gain 3 to 5 pounds after one meal just because of the sodium content included in the meal. A weak heart already holds onto extra fluid, and that becomes worse with a salty meal.

There are millions of individuals living with heart failure, and around 2,000 transplants are conducted each year. The low incidence of the procedure is a product of a limited donor pool, but also because many patients don't end up needing it, Budge said.

"We could always use more donors," she said, adding that organ donation is based on voluntary registration.

But knowing what the risk factors are can help many stave off heart disease, which can lead to heart failure and possible transplantation.

"People don't usually feel it or know it when they have high blood pressure, so it is important that they see a physician every year and truly take ownership of their health and modify their risks," Budge said.

More people are surviving heart attacks, but the heart failure that results from such is growing in prevalence.

Anyone with questions about heart health is welcome to call the hotline from 10 a.m. until noon Saturday at 800-925-8177, or post questions on the Deseret News Facebook page.

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