Heart failure seems scary, and it’s a serious condition that needs a doctor’s care, but it doesn’t mean your heart has stopped or failed. Heart failure (HF)means your heart doesn’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. That may be because your heart doesn’t fill with enough blood or isn’t strong enough to pump blood throughout your body efficiently — or both.
Heart failure is a serious condition that affects around 6 million adults in the United States alone, according to Cardio Smart. And each year, 400,000 to 700,000 new cases are diagnosed.
If you have heart failure, certain vital signs need daily checking, including weight and blood pressure. Certain lifestyle changes can also help you manage wellness.
Follow these eight tips for success when you’re living with heart failure.
1. Limit Liquids
Drinking too many fluids can worsen your heart failure. “Patients often think, ‘I need more fluid to flush my body,’” Stevens says. “But that’s not the case when you have heart failure.” This is because with HF, your kidneys are less able to dispose of sodium and water. “Most people will need to limit beverages, such as coffee, tea, juice, and soft drinks, and foods with high water content like soup, watermelon, ice cream, and gelatin,” Stevens adds. The AHA suggests limiting your liquids to two quarts or less per day. But do be careful about limiting your intake of liquids too much: Dehydration isn’t a good idea either. Talk to your healthcare team about what fluids you should have each day and in what quantities. Ask about limits on alcoholic beverages, too.
2. Downsize Salt Intake
Salt is notorious for causing extra fluid to build up in your body and worsen heart failure. Dietary sodium restriction is endorsed by all HF guidelines and is the most frequent self-care behavior recommended to people with the condition, according to a review published July 2012 in the journal Circulation. “Unfortunately, America is not sodium-free,” Stevens says. But there are easy steps you can take to reduce your salt intake. If you buy canned or frozen foods, choose those marked “low-salt” or “no-salt added.” Some foods to avoid are bacon, fried foods, and salted butter. It’s also a good idea to try to avoid fast food entirely and resist adding salt to your plate.
3. Take Your Medication as Directed
Your doctor may prescribe a number of different drugs to treat symptoms of your condition, depending on the cause of your heart failure and how severe it is. It’s crucial to stay on top of taking your medication according to your doctor’s recommendations. If you live alone, set up reminders to stay on track, such as placing sticky notes on your bathroom cabinet or fridge, or using an alarm (a handy feature on some pill organizers) as a reminder.
4. Consider a Home Monitoring Device
At-home monitoring device systems can keep you safe and check on your daily progress. There are different monitoring devices with varying purposes. Overall, these devices track your blood pressure, heart rate, weight, fluid retention, and body temperature. Some allow you to call a nurse or automated response system and report things like your morning weight, blood pressure, and if you experienced any symptoms that may warrant a checkup, such as shortness of breath. If you report a change in your condition, you’ll get a call back from your healthcare team with the next steps. “We had a patient we called back because his weight was up,” says Stevens. “He told us, ‘I knew you’d call because I ate a salami sandwich last night.’”
Research published in March 2017 in JMIR Research Protocols shows that at-home monitoring devices can be beneficial when used consistently, and most limitations come from the inability of the user to comply.
5. Weigh Every Day
“You must weigh yourself every morning after you go to the bathroom,” says Tracy Stevens, MD, a cardiologist at the Muriel I. Kauffman Women’s Heart Center at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart and Vascular Institute, a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, and a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association (AHA). Weight gain is one of the first signs of heart failure because it means you’re retaining fluid. Keep a daily chart, and if you gain more than three pounds in one day or five pounds in one week you should call your doctor.
If you do experience sudden weight gain, check your ankles, legs, and abdomen for swelling. This could be a sign of edema, or the buildup of fluid in your tissues, which requires immediate attention from your doctor. “If you’re retaining fluid, call your doctor. We can intervene before you’re hospitalized for heart failure,” Dr. Stevens says.
6. Monitor Your Blood Pressure
Your doctor may also want you to keep track of your blood pressure, because over time, high blood pressure can put a strain on your heart, which causes the muscle to weaken and work less efficiently, according to Mayo Clinic. You can easily check your blood pressure from your kitchen with a home blood pressure monitor. Ask your doctor or nurse for advice on which monitor is best for you and how to use it. The AHA recommends using an automatic cuff-style biceps monitor. As with your weight, record your blood pressure (some devices will store measurements for you) and show your readings to your doctor at your appointments. If your pressure rises, your doctor may need to see you sooner than planned.
Benefits of Self-Care for Heart Failure at Home
Clinical outcomes of heart failure hangs largely on how well people manage their condition between face-to-face visits with their doctor.
Caring for yourself must be on top of your tasks when you have heart failure. It may mean some adjustments in daily habits, especially if you live by yourself. But these simple heart failure prevention steps will help you work with your doctor to get the heart health boost you need.