Broken hearts aren’t just for the romantics anymore. When you live with congestive heart failure, it often can feel like your heart is breaking down and keeping you from doing the things you love to do.
Congestive heart failure (CHF), is a cardiovascular condition in which your heart loses its pumping power and your body doesn’t receive enough of the oxygen-rick blood it needs to function. If your heart does not pump blood properly, the blood backs up in your lungs and other body parts.
Although it is a serious condition, there are treatment options that allow people with CHF to live fuller, more active lives.
“If you’ve been diagnosed with CHF, it’s a good idea to understand your treatment options, and work with your doctor to manage your condition,” says Marty Megenhardt, R.N., BSN, chronic condition coordinator at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach.
There are a few different things patients can do to manage CHF.
After being diagnosed, your doctor will order medications to help control your symptoms. Never stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor.
Some heart-failure medications include:
- diuretic “water pills” decrease fluid retention and swelling. A potassium supplement may be given to replace lost potassium.
- ACE inhibitors/ARBs lower blood pressure, decrease strain on the heart and help it pump more efficiently
- beta blockers help to lower blood pressure, slow the heart rate and lessen the workload of the heart
- digoxin strengthens the heart and slows the heart rate
- warfarin, a blood thinner, works to prevent blood clots
Keep It Moving
Although medications can help, nothing will strengthen your heart like exercise.
Physical activity will build up your heart muscle while improving blood circulation, cholesterol and blood pressure. Be sure to talk to your physician before starting any kind of exercise regimen.
If your physician recommends walking, start slow and build to 20 or 30 minutes, three to four times a week. If time is a factor, consider home options, such as resistance bands or hand weights. An exercise partner, as well as a regular schedule, can offer accountability.
“If you just say, ‘I’m going to exercise tomorrow,” you won’t. But, if you have it on your schedule at noon, you have a much better chance,” Megenhardt says.
Hold the Salt
Limiting your sodium intake helps to prevent and control fluid buildup. Extra fluid makes your heart work harder, which can increase your blood pressure.
National guidelines recommend restricting sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day; however, your doctor may allow up to 2,400 mg a day. Staying within the limit designated by your doctor may decrease your chances of needing emergency medical treatment.
“When grocery shopping, always refer to the nutrition facts label to determine sodium content in food items,” Megenhardt says. “Try selecting foods with no more than 140 mg of sodium per serving.” Remember, if you eat more than one serving, you will ingest more sodium than the amount listed.
Tracking Your Weight
Your doctor may ask you to weigh yourself daily. This will show how well your diet and medications are working to keep you from retaining extra fluid.
“It is important to weigh yourself daily and to keep a weight record,” Megenhardt says. “A weight gain of three pounds overnight or five pounds in one week is most likely a sign of fluid retention, and you should notify your physician.”
After heart failure, it is especially important to stick to your daily caloric goal and to maintain your weight to help detect water retention.
Medical Alert: Know the Signs of Heart Failure
Stop and call your doctor immediately if you have:
- no relief from chest pain
- no relief from shortness of breath with activity
- shortness of breath at rest
- wheezing or chest tightness at rest
Proceed with caution, and talk to your doctor if you have two or more of these warning signs.
- increased weight
- increased cough when lying down or after activity
- increased swelling of hands, ankles, feet or legs
- increased shortness of breath with activity
- increased use of pillows or need to sit in a chair to sleep
- chest pain or discomfort relieved with rest
- unusual symptoms that bother you
Keep going, as directed by your doctor, if you have:
- no shortness of breath
- no swelling
- no weight gain
- no decrease in your ability to maintain your activity level
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