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Live Well with Heart Failure

Heart failure (HF) occurs when your heart fails to pump enough blood to the rest of your body. This decreased pumping is often referred to as systolic heart failure. Doctors also recognize a condition known as diastolic heart failure, in which the pumping chamber is altered in other ways. Both conditions can result in similar heart failure symptoms. Diseases or conditions that damage or overwork your heart muscle cause HF. These include uncontrolled coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diseases of the heart valves, diseases of heart muscle, arrhythmias (abnormal heart beats), and diabetes.

Poor pumping

Heart failure occurs when the diminished pumping capacity of your heart causes blood to back up into your veins, and fluid to back up into your lungs. The fluid often causes swollen ankles and weight gain. It can also lead to fatigue and shortness of breath, especially when lying down. Heart failure can also affect how well your kidneys work.

If you have HF, it generally cannot be cured. However, current treatments and healthy habits may help reverse your symptoms and prolong your life. It's important that you stick with your treatment regimen, even when you're feeling better. You also need to maintain the following healthy habits.

Weigh yourself every day

Weigh yourself every morning after urinating and before eating. Keep a record, and tell your doctor if you gain weight. Even an increase of a few pounds may mean that you're retaining water and that your treatment may not be as effective as it could be.

Take your medicines

You need to take your medicines on schedule and in the right amounts. Make sure you know how each one should affect your body. That way you will know if it is working properly. If you have questions, ask your health care provider. It's part of your health care provider's job to help you understand how to take your medicines. Let him or her know if you experience any side effects. Also let your health care provider know about all the medicines you take, even over-the-counter products. They may interact with your HF medicines.

See your health care provider

Visit your health care provider as often as your medical team recommends, so that your treatment can be updated as needed. This is especially important if your condition changes or if your medicine has been adjusted. Don't wait until your symptoms are so severe that you have to go to the hospital.

Stop smoking

One of the best things you can do for your overall health is to kick the habit. It's not easy, but millions of people succeed every year. Visit the American Lung Association for more information. Or, talk with your health care provider about ways to quit smoking.

Skip the salt

Limiting the amount of salt you eat can prevent fluid retention. This is important to control HF. Ask your health care provider how much salt you can have. Avoid using salt when you cook or season your food. Try using other spices, such as garlic powder or basil, instead. After a while, you'll get used to seasoning your food in new ways. You should also check the label of any prepared foods you buy. This can help you avoid high-salt foods.

Don't drink alcohol

Alcohol interferes with your heart's ability to beat strongly. If your heart failure is advanced, or if alcohol use led to your heart trouble in the first place, you should give it up completely. If you have mild or moderate heart failure not caused by alcohol, you may be able to drink limited amounts of alcohol. Ask your health care provider if it is safe for you to drink any alcohol. If you think you have a problem with alcohol and need help quitting, talk with your health care provider. You can also contact Alcoholics Anonymous. Look in the White Pages for a chapter near you, or visit the AA website.

Get active

In all but the most severe cases, low-intensity aerobic exercise helps people with HF, regardless of their age. It can make your heart pump more effectively and help your body use oxygen more efficiently. Exercise can also help improve your symptoms and enhance your overall sense of well-being. Before you start exercising, talk with your health care provider about what level of exercise is right for you.

Stay connected

There are a number of ways you can stave off progressive HF. Avoid unnecessary anxiety and frustration, and get support from family and friends. It's also important to come to terms with your illness. This means accepting that you will need to make changes in your life in order to get better. If your feelings become overwhelming, consider seeking professional help. Ask your health care provider to suggest a therapist who is experienced with cardiac patients. Or, you may want to join a local cardiac support group. It can help to talk with people who have had experiences like yours.

Living successfully with HF takes effort and discipline. Fortunately, many people do it, and so can you. Just stick with your treatment and remember to practice good habits. Most of all, don't give up.

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