How to Live Your Best Life with Heart Failure
By: Troy Rudeseal, RN (Telehealth Clinical Manager)
Heart failure affects almost 6 million Americans in the United States. Nearly half of all people who develop heart failure die within 5 years of diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition costs the country more than $30 billion a year.
It's not a stretch to call this an epidemic; but you can still live a productive, fulfilling life.
Follow these six (6) steps if you're living with Heart Failure:
1. Don't become your disease.
It's easy to get wrapped up in your condition and your personal struggle with it, but don't let it define who you are or what you do with your life. Always maintain a positive attitude and when that gets tough, reach out to family and friends, or find a good support group.
2. Take your medication.
This one seems obvious, but it's imperative for heart failure patients to take their medicine. The sooner you get a handle on it, the better. Some of the medications your doctor may recommend include:
• ACE inhibitors: These relax blood vessels to keep your blood pressure low and reduce the load on your heart.
• Beta-blockers: They lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate.
• Digoxin: This strengthens the force of the heart muscles' contractions and slows the heart rate.
• Diuretics: These are also known as "water pills."
• Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs): These relax blood vessels and make it easier for your heart to do its job.
• Isosorbide dinitrate/hydralazine: Also relaxes blood vessels.
These medications can help you live longer, breathe more easily, give you more energy, become more active, have less swelling, and ultimately stay out of the hospital.
3. Get involved with your health care team.
Talk to your doctors regularly. Feeling comfortable with them is important, as is the ability to trust them and believe you're getting the care you need. When first diagnosed with heart failure, it may help to keep a detailed account of how you feel at different parts of the day and how your medications, diet, and exercise routine affect you. Many doctors recommend that you keep a journal and review it with your medical team.
4. Do what you can, but realize you can't do it all.
People with heart failure often suffer from fatigue, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath. The most important thing you can do is rest when you need to, and get plenty of sleep. You don't have to sleep every day away, but resting truly makes a huge difference. You simply have to pick and choose what you can do and what you can't do on any given day.
Get moving! This is crucial. Go for a walk, even if you have to start slowly. If you tire easily, that's OK, too! But choosing not to exercise for days or weeks at a time is not an option. The most important thing to remember about an exercise program is to ensure that you're setting achievable goals. If health is truly your priority, then exercise should help with motivation.
Some patients with heart failure may shy away from exercise or even a trip away from home. But if they have a day where they do too much, it's not going to hurt their heart. It's not going to make their heart fail faster.
6. Watch your sodium and your weight.
Too much salt in your diet makes you retain water, and that can put unnecessary pressure on your heart. The American Heart Association recommends that people have no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. How do you ensure this? Stop adding salt to your food. Eat low-sodium versions of the foods you like. Choose foods that are naturally low in sodium, like fresh or frozen meats, eggs, yogurt, tortillas, and many fresh fruits. Also, learn to read food labels.
Immediately notify your doctor of any quick weight gain. If you've gained about two pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week, it could be a sign that your heart failure is getting worse. Many medical experts recommend that you weigh yourself daily, at the same time and in the same way. Keep an accurate log of any weight gain or loss.
Likewise, watch out for swelling, especially in your legs, ankles, feet, or hands. That could signal a buildup of fluids, which is another clue that your heart may not be working as well as it should. Speaking of fluids, watch how much you consume each day, including soup. Drinking glass after glass of water or green tea is not necessarily a good thing when your body is struggling to get rid of fluids.
Here at Well Care, we are committed to helping heart failure patients enjoy the best quality of life possible. Our teleheath program teaches patients how to live with the condition. The HRS technology we use sends daily vital signs and symptoms to our clinicians so that data can be shared with patients' Physicians. This allows for early interventions and minimized hospital admissions.
Heart failure is a progressive disease and exacerbations will occur over time; but with our patients' help, we can keep them in the comfort of their own homes longer. Through early detection and daily monitoring, we can limit the severity of heart failure exacerbations and lengthen the time between hospitalizations.
Living with heart failure is certainly not easy; but you can still live a fulfilling and productive life. The choice is up to you!