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Heart failure (HF)
is a condition that does not allow your heart to fill or pump properly. Not enough oxygen in your blood gets to your organs and tissues. HF can occur in the right side, the left side, or both lower chambers of your heart. HF is often caused by damage or injury to your heart. The damage may be caused by heart attack, other heart conditions, or high blood pressure. HF is a long-term condition that tends to get worse over time. It is important to manage your health to improve your quality of life. HF can be worsened by heavy alcohol use, smoking, diabetes that is not controlled, or obesity.
Common signs and symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing with activity that worsens to difficulty breathing at rest
- Shortness of breath while lying flat
- Severe shortness of breath and coughing at night that usually wakes you
- Chest pain at night
- Periods of no breathing, then breathing fast
- Fatigue or lack of energy (often worsened by physical activity)
- Swelling in your ankles, legs, or abdomen
- Fast heartbeat, purple color around your mouth and nailbeds
- Fingers and toes cool to the touch
Call 911 if:
- You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
- Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest that lasts longer than 5 minutes or returns
- Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
- Trouble breathing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat, especially with chest pain or trouble breathing
Seek care immediately if:
- You gain 3 or more pounds (1.4 kg) in a day, or more than your healthcare provider says you should.
- Your heartbeat is fast, slow, or uneven all the time.
Contact your healthcare provider if:
- You have symptoms of worsening HF:
- Shortness of breath at rest, at night, or that is getting worse in any way
- Weight gain of 5 or more pounds (2.2 kg) in a week
- More swelling in your legs or ankles
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- More coughing
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling tired all the time
- You feel hopeless or depressed, or you have lost interest in things you used to enjoy.
- You often feel worried or afraid.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
Treatment for HF
may include any of the following:
- Medicines may be needed to help regulate your heart rhythm. You may also need medicines to lower your blood pressure, and to get rid of extra fluids.
- Oxygen may help you breathe easier if your oxygen level is lower than normal. A CPAP machine may be used to keep your airway open while you sleep.
- Surgery can be done to implant a pacemaker in your chest to regulate your heart rhythm. Other types of surgery can open blocked heart vessels, replace a damaged heart valve, or remove scar tissue.
Manage or prevent HF:
- Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage and make HF difficult to manage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
- Do not drink alcohol or take illegal drugs. Alcohol and drugs can worsen your symptoms quickly.
- Weigh yourself every morning. Use the same scale, in the same spot. Do this after you use the bathroom, but before you eat or drink anything. Wear the same type of clothing. Do not wear shoes. Record your weight each day so you will notice any sudden weight gain. Swelling and weight gain are signs of fluid retention. If you are overweight, ask how to lose weight safely.
- Check your blood pressure and heart rate every day. Ask for more information about how to measure your blood pressure and heart rate correctly. Ask what these numbers should be for you.
- Manage any chronic health conditions you have. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, and COPD. You will have fewer symptoms if you manage these health conditions. Follow your healthcare provider's recommendations and follow up with him or her regularly.
- Eat heart-healthy foods and limit sodium (salt). An easy way to do this is to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer canned and processed foods. Replace butter and margarine with heart-healthy oils such as olive oil and canola oil. Other heart-healthy foods include walnuts, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, and lean meats. Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna are also heart healthy. Ask how much salt you can eat each day. Do not use salt substitutes.
- Drink liquids as directed. You may need to limit the amount of liquids you drink if you retain fluid. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
- Stay active. If you are not active, your symptoms are likely to worsen quickly. Walking, bicycling, and other types of physical activity help maintain your strength and improve your mood. Physical activity also helps you manage your weight. Work with your healthcare provider to create an exercise plan that is right for you.
- Get vaccines as directed. Get a flu shot every year. You may also need the pneumonia vaccine. The flu and pneumonia can be severe for a person who has HF. Vaccines protect you from these infections.
Join a support group:
Living with HF can be difficult. It may be helpful to talk with others who have HF. You may learn how to better manage your condition or get emotional support. For more information:
- American Heart Association
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas , TX 75231-4596
Phone: 1- 800 - 242-8721
Web Address: http://www.heart.org
Follow up with your healthcare provider or cardiologist within 2 weeks or as directed:
You may need to return for other tests. You may need home health care. A healthcare provider will monitor your vital signs, weight, and make sure your medicines are working. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.