Have you been diagnosed with congestive heart failure? You are not alone. In fact, 5.7 million Americans are living with this chronic condition. Many are seniors.
Heart failure simply means weakness of the heart. It is sometimes called congestive heart failure, pulmonary edema, or fluid on the lungs. These are different names for the same condition that causes muscles in the heart to slowly weaken and enlarge. The heart keeps beating, but its weakened muscle is not able to meet your body’s need for blood and oxygen the way it used to.
If you have heart failure, you may have difficulty breathing; have swollen ankles, legs, or abdomen; or feel weak and tired. These are all symptoms of the condition. Even though it is a chronic disease (meaning it will never go away, no matter how good you feel), it is important to treat your heart failure to prevent it from getting worse.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to strengthen your heart and diuretics (ie, ‘water pills’) to help your body get rid of extra fluid. Sometimes surgery or medical devices are necessary to manage the condition.
There are many things you can do to keep yourself feeling good and out of the hospital. Here are six ways you can successfully manage your condition so that you can continue to participate in family and community activities and live a productive life:
- Take your medications as prescribed by your doctor.
- Go to your doctor appointments.
- Write down your weight and your symptoms every day.
- Eat and drink according to your doctor’s instructions.
- Exercise as directed by your doctor.
- Stop using all tobacco. Stop or limit alcohol and caffeine.
Here’s more information you may need to complete these six steps.
People who take their medicines as the doctor said live longer, feel better, and spend less time in the hospital.
Keep a list of all your medicines, vitamins, and non-prescription supplements, and bring it to every doctor appointment. If it’s easier, bring all your pill bottles with you.
When heart failure causes your body to hold extra water, your weight goes up. You can track this by weighing yourself every morning around the same time. Keep a written record, and remember to weigh yourself:
- After urinating
- Before eating or drinking
- Wearing the same amount of clothing
- Using the same scale
Tell your health care provider right away if you gain:
- Three or more pounds in one day, OR
- Five or more pounds in one week
Pay attention to these symptoms, write them down, and tell your health care provider if they get worse:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swollen feet, ankles, legs, or belly / abdomen (also called “edema.”)
- Feeling weak and tired
- Chest pain
- Coughing or wheezing
- Feeling dizzy, faint, or confused
Your doctor or nutritionist will give you a diet that is right for you. A heart-healthy diet avoids salt (sodium), saturated fat, and trans fat.
Salt, also called sodium, acts like a sponge and makes your body hold onto water. Eating too much salt can make it harder to breathe and can cause swelling and weight gain.
It is recommended that you eat less than 2000 mg (2,000 milligrams = 1 teaspoon) of salt each day. You can do this by taking the salt shaker off the table and reading food labels for “sodium.” If you eat out, choose baked or broiled foods (not fried), and ask for your sauce, gravy, or salad dressing on the side so you can control how much you have.
Here are some high-salt foods to avoid:
- Canned foods/soups
- Frozen dinners
- Deli meats
- Hot dogs
- Jarred tomato/pasta sauce
- Sausages and kielbasa
- Ham and bacon
- French fries
- Sea salt
- Adobo seasoning
- Salad dressings
- Soy sauce
Talk to your doctor about what kind of exercises and activities are safe or good for you. You should always:
- Follow the treatment plan your doctor gives you
- Wait at least one hour after eating before exercising or other physical activity
- Stop and rest for a while if you get tired or have a problem
- Choose a time when you feel your best
Frequent, short rests to save your energy are important to manage your heart failure symptoms. Think about how you can plan your activities so you don’t overdo it.
You can save your energy by organizing and limiting your work, avoiding extreme hot or cold temperatures (outdoors, or in the bath), and using tools to help you, such as a walker, shower chair, or bedside commode.
Smoking, alcohol, and caffeine
Tobacco products are bad for everyone, but especially people with heart failure. Smoking makes the heart work harder and can lead to heart attacks. Please stop right away. Ask your doctor, nurse, or therapist for help to quit smoking.
Ask your doctor if it is safe for you to have alcohol or caffeine. Alcohol can make your heart failure worse, or it can affect your medicines. Caffeine is usually okay in moderation.
If you are allowed to drink alcohol, have no more than:
- Two drinks per day (for men)
- One drink per day (for women)
One drink =
- 1 to 1.5 ounces (oz) of liquor (depending on strength, 80 to 100 proof)
- 5 ounce glass of wine
- 12 ounce bottle of beer
If you are allowed to have caffeine, have no more than one or two cups of coffee, tea, or soda per day.
Following these six steps can help you live your life well, while managing your heart failure. Should you have an exacerbation of your symptoms or need help with managing your medications, BAYADA Home Health Care can help.