NEW ORLEANS -- Congestive heart failure has many causes, from high blood pressure and diabetes to alcoholism and cocaine use. There can even be problems after pregnancy, or from a virus or HIV, from valve problems or even genetic causes.
What happens is the heart muscle can no longer keep up with the body's activity. It causes people to get out of breath, and swelling in the legs, face, and abdomen.
And during crawfish season, doctors have an extra warning for those patients.
Pinching the tails and sucking the heads is a NOLA springtime ritual. But for some, it can be deadly.
"This is the time that they all come in, especially with all the foods that are out there. With the salty foods, they all come because they go out and eat and when they go out and eat, they come in, in heart failure," explained Dr. Pramilla N. Subramaniam, an Interventional Cardiologist at LSU Health Sciences Center.
The recipe for boiled crawfish and shrimp is lots of seasoning, and that has lots and lots and lots of sodium. And sodium and congestive heart failure patients should not party together.
"So now when you're eating salty foods, the amount of fluid that you have in your body increases and you're not able to pump it out of the lungs. So where's all the fluid going to go? Into the lungs and then what are you going to (have), short of breath and you're in heart failure," she said from her clinic in Kenner.
So if you're going to have a cheat day and go to a crawfish boil, the doctor recommends a couple of things. First, weigh yourself every day to see if you are retaining fluid. Next, you might need to double up on your diuretic -- that's those water or fluid pills.
You may need to do that for a couple of days afterwards, but always check with your cardiologist before you make any dose changes.
And even though doctors see more people with heart complications after taking in too much sodium at crawfish boils, they also see it in heart patients who shop the can aisle at the grocery.
"The biggest problem I find in patients when they come in, in heart failure, is they cheated on the diet not knowingly. They want a quick meal so what do they reach for? The canned soups and canned soups are high in sodium," Dr. Subramaniam said.
So ask the person with the paddle stirring the pot to fix a batch for you easy on the sodium. And, pay attention to the sodium content in canned foods, not the salt content. The doctor says rinsing canned vegetables and fruit does not get rid of the high sodium content.