Martha Gulati, M.D., FACC
More than 6 million Americans have heart failure, a lifelong condition that makes it harder for the heart to pump enough blood and oxygen to meet the body’s needs. Some people are more likely to develop the condition than others, including women and minorities, but heart failure can affect people of all ages.
It is normal to feel scared if you have been diagnosed with heart failure, and the term “heart failure” can feel hopeless, but the reality is far from this. Thanks to recent advances in our understanding of how best to manage the disease, there are excellent therapies that can help your heart function and turn heart failure to heart success.
Taking steps to manage your heart failure can help you reach your “new normal” in your heart failure journey. Remember that you are at the center of your care, so it is important to feel comfortable sharing goals, preferences, and concerns with your healthcare team. Follow these tried-and-true tips to feel successful in your treatment:
1. Know your symptoms
Every heart failure patient has different symptoms that signal a worsening of the condition. This may mean swelling in the legs or abdomen, shortness of breath, chest pressure, or loss of appetite. As soon as you notice a flare-up, seek medical attention.
2. Speak up
Your input in your care is important. By telling your care team how you are doing, you help paint a full picture of how heart failure is affecting your quality of life. Keep a journal to make notes of how you are feeling each day (what does a good day vs. a bad day look like?), any aggravating triggers, and any bumps in the road.
3. Don’t miss doses
Heart failure patients who take their medicine without missing doses have the best chance of keeping symptoms controlled. Use a pillbox or set an alarm on your phone to remember midday and evening doses, and always be sure to keep refills on hand. It is also important to ensure your healthcare team knows if you are taking your medications and if there are side effects or cost issues that are making it hard for you to take the prescribed medications.
4. Limit salt and fluids
While clinicians prescribe diuretics (water pills) to control fluid buildup in the body, it is important to be mindful of the amount of salt and water being consumed. Salt can cause the body to hold on to water, leading to swelling. Talk with your healthcare team about a heart-healthy eating plan that could work for you.
5. Log your weight
Sudden weight gain can be a red flag that fluid is building up in the body. Weigh yourself each morning before breakfast — the danger zone is gaining 3 pounds in a 24-hour period or more than 5 pounds in a week. Keep a daily log of your weight to stay in control and on top of your heart failure.
Although heart failure is a part of your life, it does not define you. You may need to do things a little differently now, but you can still live your life. Studies show that it helps to remain hopeful and stay connected with people and activities that you enjoy.
Remember there is power in positive thinking. Following these steps can help to manage the disease well and ensure you feel fully supported by your care team. If you ever feel uneasy, trust your gut and speak up. Your health should always be a priority.