What Is Heart Failure?
Download a Print Version (pdf): English | Spanish
Heart Failure usually develops slowly following injury to the heart. Damage to the heart muscle may be caused by coronary artery disease, heart attack, long-term high blood pressure, diabetes, heart valve disease, infection of the heart muscle, viruses or lung problems.
The heart muscle becomes weakened and must work harder to keep blood flowing through the body. The name of this condition does not mean that your heart has suddenly stopped working.
Symptoms of Heart Failure
- Dry Hacking Cough
- Fatigue, Loss of Energy
- Sudden Weight Gain
- Shortness of Breath, Especially with Activity
- Awakening Short of Breath at Night
- Unable to Sleep Lying Flat; Need an Extra Pillow or Need to Sit Up to Sleep
- Swelling of Ankles, Legs and/or Stomach
- Lack of Appetite or “Bloated” Feeling
- Less Urination During the Day; Increased Urination at Night
If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, there are many things you can do to help yourself. It is possible to feel well and lead a normal life by taking control of your heart failure by doing the following.
Weigh each morning after using the bathroom. Keep a weight diary by writing your weight down each morning. If you gain two pounds overnight or three to five pounds in a week, notify your doctor.
Limit Salt / Sodium
Heart failure causes the body to hold onto salt/sodium, which causes extra fluid to build up in your body. This fluid makes your heart work harder and causes the symptoms of heart failure. It is recommended that a person with Heart Failure have not more than 2000 mg of sodium a day. Below are tips for you to stay within the recommended amount.
When reading food labels, check both the amount of salt/sodium and the serving size. Avoid foods that have more than 350 mg of sodium per serving.
- Buy foods that are labeled “salt-free,” “low sodium.” Remember that low sodium does not mean NO salt.
- Take the saltshaker off the table.
- Don’t add salt when cooking. Try pepper, onion, lemon, garlic, vinegar, herbs and spices instead.
- Choose low-sodium foods, including fresh vegetables, fruits and lean meats.
Drinking too much fluid can cause fluid build-up in the body. For most people who have heart failure, fluid intake should be limited to 11⁄2 to 2 quarts a day. Your doctor will tell you how much fluid you should drink.
Your doctor may prescribe a combination of medicines to treat your heart failure. These medicines will:
- stabilize and perhaps reduce your symptoms
- help you live longer
- allow you to increase your activity
- keep you out of the hospital.
These medications may include pills to reduce fluid build-up and blood pressure reduction, and medicine to improve the way your heart works.
- Take your medicines at the same time each day. Do not skip doses or stop medicine without talking to your doctor.
- Refill prescriptions before they run out.
- Notify your doctors if you experience side effects such as dizziness, increased weakness, fatigue, muscle cramps, persistent dry cough, nausea, poor appetite, nausea, vision changes or any other symptoms.
Staying active can help decrease your symptoms, make you feel better and improve your sense of well-being. Ask your doctor about activities appropriate for you.
Regular check-ups with your doctor will help you keep your heart failure under control.
Things to Avoid
Call Your Doctor
If you have any of these symptoms:
- Sudden weight gain of 2 pounds overnight, or 3 to 5 pounds in a week
- Increased shortness of breath
- Waking up breathless at night
- Dry, hacking cough
- More tired than usual
- Swelling in the feet, ankles or legs
- Nausea or swelling in the abdomen
Alcohol has a direct effect on the heart muscle. It decreases the strength of the heart’s contraction in an already weakened heart.
Cigarette smoking can damage and weaken the heart. You should avoid all forms of tobacco, including second-hand smoke.
There are some prescription and over-thecounter medicines that should be avoided or taken with caution. These drugs can make heart failure symptoms worse by interacting with medicines or causing you to retain fluid. They include nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) including Ibuprofen, Naproxen and Ketoprofen.
Herbal medicines are drugs. Always check with your doctor or a pharmacist before using these.
Taking control of your heart failure is the key to living more actively with a better quality of life. Follow the treatment plan prescribed for you. Your success depends on an active partnership between you, your doctor and nurse.