Heart Failure and Lifestyle Changes

People diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF) should remember two important facts about their condition: first, CHF can be managed with good results; and second, they can live longer, more active lives with early diagnosis and treatment. In addition to medications and in some cases surgery, lifestyle changes play a critical role in helping people with CHF improve their quality of life.

CHF means the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the demands of the body. The condition can be the result of coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, faulty heart valves, heart muscle damage, inflammation of the heart muscle, congenital heart defects, abnormal heart rhythms or other chronic diseases such as diabetes, emphysema, lupus or severe anemia. Symptoms of CHF may include:

  • Shortness of breath when lying down
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Wheezing

If not treated, CHF may lead to kidney or liver damage, heart valve problems, and heart attack or stroke. Making simple lifestyle changes can help relieve symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening:

  • Quit smoking. Smoking can damage blood vessels, increase blood pressure and reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood.
  • Maintain weight. A sudden weight gain of three or more pounds in one day could be a sign of fluid retention that requires a change in the treatment plan.
  • Restrict salt intake. Too much salt can contribute to water retention, which makes the heart work harder. Most people with CHF should have 2,000 milligrams (mg) or less of salt per day.
  • Limit fluids. People with CHF may need to limit how much liquid they get if their body retains fluids. Diuretics may be prescribed to help get rid of excess water and sodium and reduce the workload on the heart. Avoid alcoholic beverages.
  • Engage in moderate exercise as advised by your doctor. Some regular exercise could help reduce demands on the heart and keep the rest of the body healthy.
  • Stay calm. Take a nap or put feet up when anxious or upset. Being under stress can make the heart beat faster and cause breathing to be more difficult.
  • Sleep well. To alleviate shortness of breath that comes from lying down, those with CHF can sleep with their head propped up on a pillow or wedge at a 45-degree angle.
  • Eat healthy. Select a balanced diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, poultry, fish, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium.
  • Get vaccinated. People with CHF should get vaccinations for pneumonia and flu, two illnesses that can put extra stress on the heart.
  • Dress appropriately. Avoid wearing tight socks or stockings that can slow blood flow to the legs and potentially cause a clot.

CHF requires a lifelong commitment to proper management. With treatment, signs and symptoms of the condition could improve and the heart muscle may get stronger. For more information about CHF, talk with your doctor.

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