Managing Heart Failure
MEDICAL ANIMATION TRANSCRIPT: If you've been diagnosed with heart failure, it's important to control your symptoms. Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, or CHF, is a lifelong condition in which your heart continues to work but not as well as it should. Your heart can't pump enough blood and oxygen to meet the needs of your body. Excess fluid builds up in the lungs, legs, and other body tissues. The symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, chronic coughing or wheezing, swelling of the legs, feet, or abdomen, weight gain, feeling tired all the time, nausea or lack of appetite, heart palpitations, difficulty lying flat due to feelings of suffocation, and having to sit up to breathe. Over time, heart failure weakens your heart and can shorten your life if not well managed. Fortunately, you can help control your symptoms by following your doctor's instructions, adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, and staying aware of changes in your symptoms. Following the instructions of your healthcare team is very important in managing your symptoms and preventing unnecessary trips to the hospital. This includes taking your medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Don't stop taking your medications or skip doses. Take note of any side effects, and tell your doctor. If the cost of your medication is an issue, discuss other options with your doctor. Your medications may include angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers, or angiotensin receptor-neprilysin inhibitors, beta-blockers, mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists, also known as aldosterone blockers, or sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 inhibitors. These medicines are important in managing heart failure. Don't take any over-the-counter medication or supplement without asking your doctor if it's okay. Make and keep all of your follow-up appointments for both doctor's visits and lab tests. Get vaccinated against the flu and pneumonia as directed by your doctor. Managing your heart failure also means adopting a healthy lifestyle. You may need to make the following changes. Eat a heart-healthy diet, including low-fat, low-cholesterol, and high-fiber foods. A heart-healthy diet helps you maintain or achieve a good blood pressure and weight and helps prevent other conditions that may further stress your heart. Check food labels for the amounts of these ingredients and others. Limit your salt and sodium intake to 2,000 milligrams a day, which is less than a teaspoon, by doing the following. Don't add salt when you cook or to food at the table. Avoid processed and fast foods. Compare food labels, and choose the items that are lower in salt and sodium. Limit your alcohol intake. Ask your doctor if your condition allows you to include any alcohol in your diet. Monitor your fluid intake. Too much fluid makes your heart work harder. Ask your doctor how much fluid is the right amount for you. Don't smoke. Nicotine increases heart rate and blood pressure. At the same time, it decreases the amount of oxygen-rich blood delivered to your body's tissues. Become physically active. Regular exercise through daily activities such as gardening and housework can make you feel better. Other good exercise options, with your doctor's approval, are walking, swimming, and bicycling. As you exercise, keep these precautions in mind. Rest as needed. Stop if you feel chest pain or more than usual shortness of breath. And don't exercise when temperatures are very hot or very cold. Your doctor may also prescribe a cardiac rehabilitation program that is a combination of medically supervised exercise, lifestyle counseling, and education. It is important to stay aware of changes in your symptoms and know when to get help. Using the traffic light colors, green, yellow, and red, to assess how you feel can help you take the proper action to manage your heart failure symptoms. Green is your goal and means that your symptoms are under control. Continue to follow your doctor's directions, and keep all medical appointments. Weigh yourself daily to see if your body is retaining fluids. Do it at the same time each day before eating or drinking, and wear the same type of clothing or no clothes at all. Record and take note of any changes in your weight. Symptoms in the yellow zone are warning signs. Call your doctor immediately if you gain 2 to 3 or more pounds in one day or 5 pounds in one week, have an increased shortness of breath, have difficulty sleeping due to trouble breathing, feel persistent, fast, or irregular heartbeats, or feeling lightheaded or as if you may faint. Red-zone symptoms are emergencies that mean you need medical evaluation right away. Call 911 if you experience chest pain that lasts more than 15 minutes, severe and ongoing shortness of breath, coughing up pink frothy foam, or fainting. Staying on top of your symptoms and following your doctor's instructions can help you manage heart failure and reduce your trips to the hospital. To find out more about managing heart failure, talk to your healthcare practitioner.