Heart failure (HF) occurs when the heart fails to pump enough blood. Heart failure is caused by diseases or conditions that damage or overwork the heart muscle. These include uncontrolled coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diseases of the heart valves, diseases of heart muscle, arrhythmias (abnormal heart beats), and diabetes.
Heart failure occurs when the poor pumping of the heart causes blood to back up in veins and fluid to back up in the lungs. The fluid often causes swollen ankles and weight gain, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) says. It can also lead to fatigue and shortness of breath, especially when lying down. Heart failure can also affect how well your kidneys work.
If you have HF, it cannot be cured, but current treatments and healthy habits may help reverse your symptoms and prolong your life. It's important that you stick with your treatment, even when you're feeling better. You also need to maintain the following healthy habits:
Weigh yourself every day
Weigh yourself every morning after urinating and before eating. Keep a record, and tell your doctor if you gain weight. Even an increase of a few pounds may mean that you're retaining water and that your treatment may not be as effective as it could be. If you gain two pounds or more in 24 hours, call your doctor immediately.
Take your medicines
You need to take your medicines on schedule and in the right amounts. Make sure you know how each one should affect your body. That way you will know if it is working properly. If you have questions, ask your doctor. It's part of your doctor's job to help you understand how to take your medicines. Let him or her know if you have any side effects. Also let your doctor know about all the medicines you take, even over-the-counter products. They may interact with your HF medicines.
See your doctor
Visit as often as your doctor recommends so that your treatment can be updated as needed. This is especially important if your condition changes or if your medicine has been adjusted. Don't wait until your symptoms are so severe that you have to go to the hospital.
One of the best things you can do for your overall health is to kick the habit. It's not easy, but millions of people succeed every year. Visit the American Lung Association Web site at http://www.lungusa.org for more information. Or, talk with your doctor about ways to quit smoking.
Skip the salt
Limiting the amount of salt you eat can prevent fluid retention. This is important to control HF. Ask your doctor how much salt you can have. Don't use salt when you cook or to season your food. Try using other spices, such as garlic powder or basil, instead. After a while you'll get used to seasoning your food in new ways. You should also check the label of any prepared foods you buy. This can help you avoid high-salt foods.
Don't drink alcohol
Alcohol interferes with your heart's ability to beat strongly. If your heart failure is advanced or if alcohol use caused your heart trouble, you must give it up completely. If you have mild or moderate heart failure not caused by alcohol, you may be able to drink limited amounts of alcohol. Ask your doctor if it is safe for you to drink any alcohol. If you think you have a problem with alcohol and need help quitting, talk with your doctor. You can also contact Alcoholics Anonymous. Look in the White Pages for a chapter near you, or visit the AA Web site at http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.
In all but the most severe cases, low-intensity aerobic exercise helps people with HF, regardless of their age. It can make your heart work better and help your body use oxygen more efficiently. Exercise also lessens your symptoms and improves your sense of well being. Before you start exercising talk with your doctor about what level of exercise is right for you.
There are more ways you can help your treatment work better. Avoid unnecessary anxiety and frustration, and get support from family and friends. It's also important to come to terms with your illness. This means accepting that you will need to make changes in your life in order to get better. If your feelings become overwhelming, consider seeking professional help. Ask your doctor to suggest a therapist who is experienced with cardiac patients. Or, you may want to join a local cardiac support group. It can help to talk with people who have had experiences like yours.
Living successfully with HF takes effort and discipline. But many people do it, and so can you. Just stick with your treatment and remember to practice good habits. Most of all, don't give up.
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.