Congestive Heart Failure: Dealing Day-to-Day

Healthy Changes

Lifestyle choices that are more specific to heart failure may include:

  1. Appropriate levels of activity
    While it is recommended that you limit physical activity for a while, once your doctor says that it is okay to be active, you may be told to stay as active as possible. Women who have heart failure and who exercise regularly typically show significant improvement. On the other hand, women who have heart failure and who are inactive show a clear decline. Tai chi, an ancient Chinese workout involving slow, relaxing movements, has been shown in studies to benefit women living with heart failure. Exercise in any form is beneficial, but you should consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
  2. Rest and relaxation
    In the early stages of treatment, it's very important that you get plenty of rest and avoid stress as much as possible. Even after you've been told that you can engage in physical activity, you need to rest, as well. Schedule relaxation and rest periods throughout the day.
  3. Avoid too much fluid and salt
    Congestive heart failure is associated by fluid buildup that leads to swelling. Drinking too much fluid can worsen this. Talk to your doctor about the amount of fluid you should be limited to each day, and then stay within these limits.

    Salt is used by the body to keep fluid levels up. In women with congestive heart failure, too much salt may contribute to fluid retention.
  4. Watch your weight
    Keep a diary of your daily weight, and notify your doctor if there is a weight gain of three or more pounds in a single week. This may indicate fluid retention and the need for an immediate change in treatment. If you are experiencing weight loss in spite of what appears to be adequate calorie intake, you should also discuss your situation with your doctor. A study has found that some women with heart failure may need to adjust their diet to meet increased energy needs.

    In addition to watching your weight for fluid fluctuations, you should also discuss your weight loss options with your physician. Obesity and being overweight place a great deal of stress on the heart, particularly if the heart has already been weakened by heart failure. Some weight-control methods include limiting fat in the diet, increasing activity levels, counseling, medication and surgical interventions.
  5. Don't smoke or drink alcohol
    If you smoke, quit. If you don't, don't start. Tobacco smoking is a major cause of coronary artery disease and cardiac arrest. The latest statement by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows heart disease as the leading smoking-related cause of death in the United States among men and women, with tobacco use the leading preventable cause of death. Middle-aged male and female smokers triple their risk of death to heart disease.

    Alcohol use is inadvisable as well. Drinking alcohol can cause further damage to the liver which is already stressed by congestive heart failure.
  6. Eat a heart-healthy diet
    By eating healthfully, you can reduce the stress on your heart. Research has consistently supported the idea that the health of your body is largely determined by what you choose to eat. Eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, soluble fiber and certain vitamins and minerals are an important part of heart health. The American Heart Association has recommended that daily dietary-fiber intake should be between 25 grams and 30 grams. In contrast, fats such as saturated fat, trans fat and hydrogenated oils have been shown to be particularly harmful because they can speed up the development of coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis and obesity.
  7. Improve your cholesterol ratio
    Cholesterol is a major contributor to many conditions that may lead to or worsen heart failure. By keeping your cholesterol at healthy ratios, you can greatly reduce the stress on your heart. Your total cholesterol level should be no more than 200 milligrams per deciliter and no more than five times the HDL, or "good" cholesterol, level. Total cholesterol includes LDL ("bad" cholesterol), HDL and triglycerides.
  8. Manage your stress
    Some people react to stress in unhealthy ways, such as overeating and smoking. Chronic stress and hostility by itself may be a direct contributor to poor heart health because it produces increases in blood pressure that could become permanent. This can place more stress on your heart. Learning and practicing stress-management techniques can help reduce the levels of stress in your life.
  9. Control your diabetes
    Diabetes can have a contributing role or many conditions that may lead to heart failure. Once heart failure is present, uncontrolled diabetes can make the condition much worse. To this end, the control of blood sugar levels with diet, medication, or both has an important role in altering the process of heart disease.
  10. Control chronic depression
    Depression has been linked with a higher risk of developing or worsening high blood pressure, heart disease and having a heart attack.

Heart failure can change your life, especially if it is severe or was not diagnosed early. However, there are many steps you can take to improve your chances for continuing your life. In some cases, heart failure can even be reversed. In others, you may be able to at least stop it from getting any worse.

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