Heart Failure Management
Leading a normal life while living with heart failure is possible through lifestyle change and habits conducive to successful heart failure management. Adopting new habits while breaking old ones are never easy, but with patience, persistence and discipline, heart failure survivors can go on to live full lives.
- Heart failure management starts with your head. You will have a team of doctors, specialists and therapists to monitor your recovery every step of the way. Nothing they do will ensure a smooth recovery without your cooperation. You have to decide that your life is worth making some changes that may be difficult and may even be a tad uncomfortable.
- Overhaul your diet. Your days of gorging on beer, pizza and wings are over. Eating a heart-healthy diet that’s low in saturated fat and sodium doesn’t mean you have to give up taste. Low-fat and low-calorie versions of “bad” foods are available everywhere. It’s all about making good food choices instead of bad ones. A good post-heart failure diet is rich in fiber, consists of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats/poultry and low-fat or fat-free diary products.
- Avoid stress. Give yourself a self-imposed retirement from the daily juggling act. Start saying "no" when family and friends ask more of you than you can handle. Avoid stressful situations. Embrace positive thinking and learn to accept what you cannot change. Get plenty of exercise, which helps reduce stress. Take a couple of deep breaths or count to ten before responding when angry. Seek counseling if heart failure management is too great a task to do alone. And don’t forget to get plenty of rest.
- Exercise, but use caution. Heart failure patients usually undergo a cardiac rehabilitation program that includes an exercise program. Start slowly and gradually increase your time. Eventually you want to do at least 30 minutes of exercise five times per week. You can break it up into ten to fifteen minute increments if it makes it easier to do. Try to exercise at the same time of day. Ask a friend or relative to join you to make it more fun.
- Toss the tobacco. Managing heart failure and smoking don’t go hand-in-hand. Smoking temporarily increases blood pressure and it causes stickiness in the vessels that feed blood to the heart. Quitting smoking will help improve your heart failure symptoms.
- Avoid getting pneumonia and the flu. Pneumonia impairs the body’s ability to use oxygen, forcing the heart to pump faster and causing extra stress on the heart. Look into getting a yearly flu shot and a one-time pneumococcal vaccination.
- Monitor your weight and watch for physical changes. Any unexplained weight gain or loss may be an indication that your condition is getting worse. Weigh yourself every day at the same time using the same scale--and in the same spot if possible. If you notice swelling in the abdomen or limbs, have trouble sleeping or experience extreme fatigue, notify your doctor right away.
- Yes, you can still have sex. People living with heart failure or who have had heart surgery tend to be apprehensive about resuming sexual relations. Sex can be resumed once symptoms are under control. Just make sure the setting is peaceful, relaxed and free of interruptions. Avoid having sex right after a heavy meal. Stop and rest if you start to feel tired or uncomfortable.
- Join a support group. Find a group of people living with heart failure that you can reach out to for camaraderie and emotional support during those periods when the journey to recovery becomes difficult.