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Living with Heart Failure

You can live with heart failure (HF). Heart failure means your heart isn’t working normally but it doesn’t mean that it is about to stop. Generally considered a condition without a cure, you may wish your condition is temporary or one that can be remedied with medicine or surgery.1-5

But don’t give up, there are numerous steps you can take to care for yourself so that you can continue to enjoy your friends and family, working, and the activities in life you enjoy.1 Each person plays a role in how well they take care of themselves, how they follow a treatment plan, and how they respond to treatment. Communication with your healthcare team can help you manage your symptoms and learn to live well.1-5

Making positive changes

Diet, exercise, medication adherence, and giving up some of those bad habits, like smoking and eating junk food, can help you feel better and improve your HF.1-5 The American Heart Association reports that those living with HF who report significant improvements, both physical and emotional, establish better habits around nutrition, tracking and managing their symptoms, and engaging in physical activity.2 Another step you can take is to control certain risks. Risk factors in heart failure tend to be cumulative; the more you have the higher your risk.5

Talk to your healthcare team about nutrition. They may recommend that you see a nutritionist or dietician to determine what diet is best for you. There are many approaches to heart-healthy eating that include the Mediterranean diet, DASH, Keto, and basic low-fat eating. They will also let you know if you need to restrict fluids or salt (sodium) in order to reduce swelling.

Understanding your heart failure

Living well with heart failure involves understanding your HF condition. The better you know what impacts your disease, the more you can do to control your symptoms and improve your overall health.1,3,5

Take your medications as prescribed. You will likely need to take several medications to manage your HF. This can sometimes be confusing and seem difficult at first.3,5 Millions of people have heart failure and you can learn to manage your medications. Set an alarm, mark your calendar – whatever method works for you. There are pillboxes that can help organize your medications. Ask your provider for tips if you are having trouble remembering to take all your pills. Each medication plays an important role in keeping you healthy, and even if you are feeling better, do not stop taking medications on your own.3

Report your symptoms

Your healthcare team should explain the symptoms of heart failure to you and your caregivers. They will explain what symptoms to monitor, changes to look for, and how to manage them. They will also let you know when to call them if you experience something new or a sudden worsening of a current symptom. You may be asked to watch for:1-5

  • Weight change – check your weight daily for a sudden weight gain of 1-2 pounds in a day or 3-5 pounds in a week. A good time is first thing in the morning, before eating and after urinating.
  • Shortness of breath while at rest, not related to physical exertion
  • Increased swelling of legs, ankles, or abdomen
  • Sleeping difficulties such as awakening, short of breath, or needing more pillows
  • Persistent dry, hacking cough
  • Increased fatigue or exhaustion
  • Feelings of sadness or depression

Living well with heart failure is a team effort and involves making good decisions to help you cope with the demands of your condition.2-5 There are a lot of resources available to help educate and build your knowledge about heart failure. Your healthcare team and this community can offer direction.

Written by: Linda Minton | Last reviewed: November 2019
  1. Living with Heart Failure. Heart Failure Matters. Available at: https://www.heartfailurematters.org/en_GB/FAQ/Frequently-asked-questions. Accessed 10/21/19.
  2. Living with Heart Failure and Managing Advanced HF. American Heart Association. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/living-with-heart-failure-and-managing-advanced-hf. Accessed 10/21/19.
  3. If you have heart failure help is here. Keep it pumping. Available at: https://www.us.keepitpumping.com/info/patient-perspective.jsp?site=PS021530&gclid=CMOF59jts-UCFciWswodR0QCRw&usertrack.filter_applied=true&NovaId=3831502955743082970. Accessed 10/22/19.
  4. Self -Check Plan for HF Management. American Heart Association. Available at: https://www.heart.org/-/media/files/health-topics/heart-failure/self-check-plan-for-hf-management-477328.pdf?la=en&hash=875F6CDFB9A16372FA8CABC3552D14EABFEFABCA. Accessed 10/22/19.
  5. Your Guide to Living Well with Heart Disease. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/living_well.pdf. Accessed 10/23/19.