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Heart Failure Self-Care (Part 2)

An important daily-check includes scanning your legs for edema, or swelling. Swelling of the legs indicates fluid accumulation in tissues, which can signal that an intervention is required. Early interventions can reduce the risk of re-hospitalizations. Typically, your physician will provide you with an action plan consisting of dietary or medication adjustments you can implement when you experience edema. While it is not often necessary to measure your ankle circumference and obtain exact measurements of your swelling, it is important to do a quick scan daily.

Other symptoms

As you progress throughout the day, check in with yourself to see how you are feeling. Are you short of breath while at rest? Are you lightheaded when you stand? Do you need to prop your head with several pillows so you can breathe at night? Let your physician know as soon as possible if any of these symptoms worsen.

Managing your medications

Medication management is one of the most important, yet challenging, self-care aspects of heart failure. There are many different classes of medications that are used to treat heart failure, and combination use can lead to difficulties with medication adherence. The following tips will help you get the most benefit out of your medication regimen:

  • Develop a relationship with your pharmacist. Once you find a pharmacy that fits your needs, avoid pharmacy hopping. This will help reduce medication errors as your pharmacy will have your complete medical and medication history.
  • When you are prescribed a new medication, always inquire about common side effects from the new therapy. Knowing the side effects will prevent surprises, and in some cases, ensure you are prepared to cope with the side effect. For example, a class of medications called ACE inhibitors are known for causing a dry cough. Knowing this ahead of time will guide you to your specialist for a medication change, rather than to your family physician for a suspected infectious-related cough.
  • Keep track of how many refills you have remaining, and avoid requesting refills when you are down to the last pill. Sometimes, pharmacies experience drug shortages or don't have enough supply of medication on hand. Arranging refills at least a week before you are due will help ensure that any unforeseen circumstances are taken care of. Try to synchronize all your medications at once so that you are not making trips to the pharmacy more than you need to.
  • Use pill reminders, such as dosettes or blister packs, if it becomes too overwhelming to manage all of your medications.

Smoking cessation

One of the most powerful self-care implementation is to minimize - or completely abstain - from smoking. About 15% of people with heart failure continue to smoke.1 Quitting smoking is certainly not an easy task; however, the good news is that there are many aides available, such as nicotine replacement therapy, and prescription medications.

There are many factors and barriers to practicing self-care. However, with knowledge, commitment, and support networks, we can all make better decisions today compared to yesterday. The journey is not mean to be one of perfection, but rather one of progress.

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