Living with heart failure

HonorHealth's approach to heart failure treatment is very much a partnership. Just as you rely on us for an individualized medical care, we rely on you to take an active role in following your prescribed treatment regimen.

Living with heart failure is a matter of managing it day to day, by seeing the doctor when required, taking medications as prescribed and making smart lifestyle choices.

Follow-up visits

Heart failure is one of the leading causes for hospital admission. Heart failure also is one of the most common reasons for hospital re-admission. Many re-admissions are due to chronic heart failure patients developing acute symptoms resulting from a change in medication or lifestyle.

Seeing your doctor, as scheduled, and following medical advice carefully can reduce the likelihood of being re-admitted to the hospital for heart failure.

Taking medications

Most heart failure patients take two or more medications specifically to manage heart failure, along with supplemental chest pain and blood-thinning medications. Taking heart failure medications as prescribed is one of the most important things you can do to manage heart failure.

Regardless of the reason, you should never stop taking a medication, or change dosage or frequency, without first consulting your doctor. Some medications, such as beta blockers, may not immediately improve heart failure symptoms. Follow prescription labels carefully and call your doctor with questions.

Limiting sodium intake

A weakened heart can impair the function of the kidneys, which regulate the body's sodium level. As sodium builds up in the bloodstream, water collects in the blood vessels, blood pressure rises and the heart must work harder to pump blood.

For this reason, you should limit your salt intake to 2,000mg per day — slightly less than a teaspoon. Doing so is a matter of reading food labels cautiously and eating processed foods sparingly. Many heart failure patients who switch to preparing meals at home — with fresh fruits and vegetables, and seasonings that serve as substitutes for salt — note an improvement in their symptoms.

Sleep habits

Heart failure symptoms can interfere with getting a good night's sleep. Lying flat in bed can make it harder to breathe and cause coughing. Propping up your head with a pillow may help, but the need to use two or more pillows may be a sign of worsening heart failure.

Likewise, taking prescribed diuretics — water pills that help the heart by flushing sodium and fluids from the body — can cause more frequent urges to urinate. Unfortunately, this side effect leads some patients to skip taking their diuretics, which can be dangerous. Ask your nurse or doctor to recommend the best time of the day to take diuretics, to minimize nighttime bathroom trips.

Avoid big meals before bedtime and limit daytime naps also for a better night's sleep.

Physical activity

Generally speaking, individuals with heart failure are advised to remain active, in accordance with a doctor-recommended exercise program. Moderate exercise — walking, biking and swimming — can be very beneficial by keeping the rest of the body in good shape.

Watching your weight

Keeping a daily log of your weight is an excellent way to monitor heart failure. Weight gain of two to three pounds in one day, or five pounds in one week, can be an indication of fluid buildup in the body — a symptom of the heart not pumping properly. If untreated, fluid buildup can put even greater stress on the heart, cause shortness of breath and lead to edema (swelling) in the ankles, legs and abdomen.