Living With Heart Failure
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2023

Living With Heart Failure

Heart failure. While the words are frightening to hear, it’s important to know that a diagnosis of heart failure is not always a death sentence. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions estimates there are about 6.2 million adults in the United States living with heart failure today. Emphasis on living.

While there is no cure for heart failure, it is possible to live a full and enjoyable life with the right medicine. Recent advancement in medicines has shown to improve heart function and slow progression of the heart disease. And, when the right medicine is paired with important lifestyle changes, it is possible to successfully manage symptoms and, in some cases, see a return to nearly regular heart function.

Some commonly recommended lifestyle changes and actions include:

Take your medication as prescribed: You may be prescribed one or more drugs to manage your condition. It’s important to consistently take them as directed to keep your heart as strong and healthy as possible.

Eat a low-sodium diet: Salt causes your body to retain fluid, which, in turn, requires your heart to work harder. You can lighten the workload on your heart by reducing your salt intake. Before you go shopping, familiarize yourself with what foods have high-salt content and look for either low-sodium options or different food substitutes. You can also find an abundance of low-salt recipes on the American Heart Association’s recipe page.

Weigh yourself daily: A change in body weight is often a signal that heart failure is not being effectively managed. Weigh yourself at the same time every morning—ideally after going to the bathroom and prior to eating—and keep a record of your weight. If you notice your weight fluctuating by four or more pounds, contact your doctor to discuss next steps.

Make a habit of exercise: Exercise is a great way to increase the strength of your heart and improve function. For many people living with heart failure, participating in cardiac rehabilitation is a great way to exercise safely and build stamina. If you’ve been diagnosed with heart failure, speak to your doctor before engaging in any new exercise routine.

Stay alert for new or changing symptoms: If you experience any new or worsening symptoms of heart failure, contact your doctor immediately to prevent a medical emergency. Symptoms to be concerned about include:

  • Swelling in your legs or stomach
  • New or more frequent shortness of breath
  • Unexplained changes in weight
  • Coughing at night
  • A racing or irregular heartbeat
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Pain or discomfort in your chest

Live healthy: A few small lifestyle changes can make a big difference in your heart health. While not always easy, any one of the following changes will make it easier to manage your condition and live life more fully.

  • Avoid or limit alcohol intake
  • Quit smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Control high blood pressure
  • Reduce or manage stress in your life
  • Stay current with all vaccines (flu, pneumonia, and COVID)

Finally, if you have an appointment with your healthcare provider, keep it. Regular monitoring of your condition is the best way to manage it.

 

Scott Rogge, MD, FACC, is the Medical Director at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center Cardiology.

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2022

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