5 Tips for Living With Heart Failure
Heart failure is a lifelong (chronic) medical condition that can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, coughing and swelling in the legs. A few simple lifestyle habits can really go a long way in helping to manage this condition. These basic tips — combined with medications and medical procedures recommended by your health care professional — can help you stay well and out of the hospital.
1. Know your symptoms.
Every patient who has heart failure has different symptoms that signal a worsening of the condition. When your heart failure symptoms get worse, prompt attention can help you recover faster and prevent the need for hospitalization. Some people get swelling in the legs or in the abdomen. Others notice shortness of breath when walking, going up the stairs or lying flat in bed. When fluid buildup becomes severe, you may notice chest tightness or pressure, loss of appetite, and shortness of breath even when at rest.
As soon as you notice any symptoms of a flare-up, seek medical attention. You may need to go to the hospital if your symptoms are bad enough.
2. Call your health care professional when you start to feel worse or your weight goes up.
Too often, patients wait too long before calling. Often this is because they do not want to bother their professional, or they want to see if things get better on their own. However, professionals are eager to hear from their patients with heart failure, especially when they are experiencing symptoms.
Over the phone or during a quick office visit, your professional can do many things to help, such as increase diuretics (water pills), adjust other heart failure medications or help you choose a healthier, lower-salt diet. The earlier patients call, the more health care professionals can help without having to recommend hospitalization.
3. Take your medications without missing doses.
Medications for heart failure can truly be lifesaving, but they can often be hard to remember to take. Sometimes, health care professionals prescribe pills that have to be taken three times a day to work appropriately. Patients who successfully take all their medicine without missing doses have the best chance of keeping their heart failure symptoms controlled.
A useful tip is to use a pillbox that contains multiple compartments for each day of the week. Some patients also set alarms on their smartphones to help them remember the mid-day and evening doses. Calling for refills promptly is also really important. The tricky part is that you may not feel any different if you forget some medications, but your heart may be working a lot harder because of the missed doses. Just a few days without heart failure medications can cause severe worsening of symptoms and a trip to the hospital.
4. Limit your salt and fluid intake.
Fluid buildup in a patient with heart failure is the result of water accumulating in the body. While clinicians prescribe diuretics (water pills) to help control the fluid buildup, it is also very important to be mindful of the total amount of salt and water being consumed. Salt, or sodium, is important because it causes your body to hold on to water.
Sodium is listed on food labels, and you should look at those labels before you eat. When cooking, try using herbs, lemon and spices. They can pack lots of flavor and help you cut down on the salt.
5. Log your weight every day.
Patients should weigh themselves unclothed every morning at the same time (after using the bathroom) and write that weight down in a logbook. This is the time of day when your weight is the most stable from day to day. A 3-pound gain in a day or a 5-pound gain in a week should prompt a call to your health care professional. The change might be an early tip-off to a worsening of your heart failure condition. Over such a brief period, this amount of weight gain results from a buildup of water, not from food.
Keeping a log of your weight is key. It is very hard to remember your weight from one day to the next. A quick glance at the log makes it easy to spot a worrisome trend in water weight gain.
Digital Patient Guide: "Living Well With Heart Failure
Although heart failure is a chronic disease that sometimes worsens, patients with heart failure have a lot of control over how they feel. Following these simple tips can help you manage living with heart failure.
Published: August 2017
Editorial Team Lead: R. Kannan Mutharasan, MD, FACC
Medical Reviewers: Paul J. St. Laurent, NP; Megan Treacy, DNP
Patient Reviewer: Penny Diaz