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Life After a Hospitalization

Everyone with heart failure will be hospitalized at least once for initial diagnosis, worsening symptoms, or for a procedure. Life continues after you have been discharged from the hospital for heart failure (HF) or a heart-related procedure.1 You will receive discharge instructions that can help you transition to home or care in a rehab facility.2 Care doesn’t stop after you leave the hospital with heart failure, it is very important to follow your discharge instructions and attend all your follow up appointments to prevent ending up back in the hospital.

You may see different providers and have a different level of care after being in the hospital.2 Regardless of where you go after the hospital, the most important step is to follow the medical directions that are designed just for you.2 This will help you to resume normal activities as soon as possible.

Heart failure is the most frequent cause of hospitalization in people over age 65.4 The time after hospital discharge is referred to as a “vulnerable phase.”3 This is a timeframe where the greatest number of adverse outcomes can happen. This means there is an increased risk of death or readmission following discharge.4 This phase can last from a few days post-discharge up to 6 months.3 Following your discharge plan and taking care of yourself is the key to avoiding setbacks and readmissions.3-4

Discharge plan

The discharge process is based on your medical conditions and the level of follow-up care you require.2 You will be given a list of medications, a schedule of follow-up appointments, and a variety of other instructions that can help you and those that care for you through the transition.1 The discharge planning process involves the input of all the providers and therapists who were involved in your care. They will advise you on the type of care you will need after the hospitalization.

Medications

Take your medications as prescribed. When you leave the hospital, you may be prescribed different medications or the same medications you were taking before but at different doses. Make sure to ask lots of questions before you leave the hospital to understand the changes. Understanding what your medications are for and how to take them correctly is very important. Don’t stop taking any medications even if you are feeling better unless your healthcare provider tells you to.2 Remember to tell your healthcare teamabout all medications, vitamins, and supplements you take to avoid any interactions that could be dangerous. Report any side effects to your healthcare team.1-2,5

Follow-up care

Your recovery time and follow-up appointments will vary based on the reason for your hospitalization. It is important to attend all scheduled follow-up appointments. If you cannot make an appointment, please call and let the clinic know. They may be able to reschedule it for a time that you can make. For patients with heart failure, it is very important to be seen with 7-10 days after discharge. Your providers will monitor your recoveryand your overall health condition. Have your questions ready so that you can report on how you’re feeling. Bring any relevant information or test results you may have received.5

Let family members or friends help you through the recovery process. Take someone with you to your medical appointments, share your questions with them and ask them to take notes so you can refer back to them at a more relaxed time.

Know your numbers

Ask your healthcare teamwhat your heart rate, blood pressure, and weight should be and how often you should track them.1 They should also let you know what range is considered safe and when to contact them.

Heart-healthy lifestyle

A heart-healthy lifestyle can help you control your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. A low sodium diet is very important in helping control heart failure symptoms and preventing hospitalizations. A heart-healthy diet and exercise program may give you a chance to live a longer and healthier life. If you are a smoker, consider quitting.1-2

Cardiac rehab

Ask your healthcare provider about cardiac rehabilitation. A medically supervised, long-term maintenance exercise/lifestyle program, it can help you to learn about self-care, a heart-healthy lifestyle and support the recovery process.1,5

Seek support

Heart failure is a chronic condition that will impact the rest of your life. Your healthcare team, friends, and family can help you cope. You may experience a range of new emotions and may benefit from professional support. There are also external resources including peer support groups and educational tools available in your local area and online.1,5

There are many changes to be expected when you go home. Different healthcare providers, restricted diets, and changes in medications, along with family and social problems are just some of the issues that you will be faced with after a hospitalization.4

Written by: Linda Minton | Last reviewed: November 2019
  1. Survival Skills Checklist. American Heart Association. Available at: https://www.heart.org/-/media/data-import/downloadables/f/9/6/survival-skills-checklist-ucm_465303.pdf. Accessed 10/27/19.
  2. Hospital Discharge. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/hospital-discharge. Accessed 10/27/19.
  3. Gracia E, Singh P, Collins S, Chioncel O, Pang P, Butler J. The Vulnerable Phase of Heart Failure. Am J Ther. 2018;25(4):e456–e464. doi:10.1097/MJT.0000000000000794
  4. Metra M, Gheorghiade M, Bonow RO, Cas LD. Postdischarge Assessment After a Heart Failure Hospitalization. Circulation. 2010;122(18):1782-1785. doi:10.1161/circulationaha.110.982207.
  5. Life After a Heart Attack. American Heart Association. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/life-after-a-heart-attack. Accessed 10/27/19.