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Health Issues

Listen to This Information

Congestive Heart Failure

Living Your Life

Making lifestyle changes can often help relieve signs and symptoms of heart failure and prevent the disease from worsening. These changes may be among the most important and beneficial you can make:

  • Stop smoking. Smoking damages your blood vessels, reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and makes your heart beat faster. If you smoke, ask your doctor to recommend a program to help you quit. You can't be considered for a heart transplant if you continue to smoke.
  • Weigh yourself daily. Do this each morning after you've urinated, but before you've had breakfast. Notify your doctor if you have a weight gain of 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms) or more pounds in a day. It may mean that you're retaining fluids and need a change in your treatment plan. Record your weight every morning and bring the record with you to your doctor's visits.
  • Restrict sodium. Sodium is a component of salt. Too much sodium contributes to water retention, which makes your heart work harder and causes shortness of breath and swollen legs, ankles and feet. For people with heart failure, the daily recommended amount of dietary sodium is no more than 2,000 milligrams a day. Keep in mind that most of this salt is already added to prepared foods, and be careful when using salt substitutes.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you're overweight, your dietitian will help you work toward your ideal weight.
  • Limit fats and cholesterol. In addition to avoiding high-sodium foods, limit the amount of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol in your diet. A diet high in fat and cholesterol is a risk factor for coronary artery disease, which often underlies or contributes to heart failure.
  • Limit alcohol and fluids. Your doctor likely will recommend that you don't drink alcohol if you have heart failure, since it can interact with your medication, weaken your heart muscle and increase your risk of abnormal heart rhythms. If you have severe heart failure, your doctor may also suggest you limit the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Exercise. Moderate exercise helps keep the rest of your body healthy and conditioned, reducing the demands on your heart muscle. Before you start exercising though, talk to your doctor about an exercise program that's right for you. Your doctor may suggest a walking program. Check with your local hospital to see if it offers a cardiac rehabilitation program; if it does, talk to your doctor about enrolling in the program.
  • Reduce stress. When you're anxious or upset, your heart beats faster and you breathe more heavily. This can make heart failure worse, since your heart is already having trouble meeting the body's demands. Find ways to reduce stress in your life. To give your heart a rest, try napping or putting your feet up when possible.
  • Sleep easy. If you're having shortness of breath, especially at night, sleep with your head propped up at a 45-degree angle using a pillow or a wedge. If you snore or have had other sleep problems, make sure you get tested for sleep apnea.

To improve your sleep at night, prop up your head with pillows and avoid big meals right before bedtime. Also, discuss with your doctor changing the time for taking medications, especially diuretics. Taking diuretics earlier in the day may keep you from having to urinate as often during the night.

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