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Living Well With Heart Failure

Managing your condition for life.

man on a scale with a nurse

Whether you have been recently diagnosed with heart failure or have lived with it for years, you may have questions.

What can I do to help reduce my symptoms? How should I take my medication? How can I work with my doctor? Wherever you are on your journey, taking charge of your condition can help you take care of your health.

Your primary care doctor

A primary care doctor can help you manage your heart failure. But you need to work as a team. Tell your doctor about how you’re feeling. Listen carefully and ask questions. The more you work together, the better your doctor will be able to treat your heart failure. Together, you can help control your heart failure. Consider these tips to help make the most of your doctor visit:

Bring a list of everything you take, including prescription medications, over-the-counter medicines, supplements or herbs and vitamins.

Bring your Heart Failure Log. Talk about any changes that might be needed. Make sure your treatment plan is right for you.

Bring a list of all your questions for the doctor. Not sure what to ask? These can help get you started:

  • Am I taking the appropriate types of medicines for my heart failure?
  • If my symptoms get worse, should I make changes to my medications?
  • When do I need to call your office? For which symptoms? For how much weight gain?
  • What is the goal for my blood pressure? The goal for my pulse?
  • Do I need to follow a special diet plan?
  • How much should I exercise each day? What exercises are safe for me?

Be sure your doctor:

  • Helps you take steps to live a healthier life
  • Has a plan to treat your heart failure
  • Makes time for your questions and listens to you

Heart failure medications

If you have heart failure, your doctor may tell you to take one or more medications. It's important to know what they are and what they do.

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor or angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB). These aim to lower blood pressure and reduce the strain on your heart. They may also help reduce your risk of having a heart attack or dying from heart disease.
  • Beta-blocker. Aims to lower blood pressure. It also slows the heart rate. That means the heart doesn't have to work so hard. Beta-blockers may lower the risk of death from a heart attack.
  • Diuretic. Helps get rid of water and sodium through your kidneys. Using this medication helps you have less swelling.

There are many medications for heart failure. Ask your doctor if you need/should be taking one or more of these types of medications to help control your blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about what is a good fit for you.

Taking your medications

Take care of your heart by taking your medications. Here are some tips that may help:

Remember to take your medications:

  • Use a pill reminder box. Fill it at the start of each week.
  • Set an alarm. Use a clock, your watch or your cell phone.
  • Start a medication record. Write down your medications in a notebook; list the times you need to take each one.

Know your medicines:

  • Keep a list of all your medications with you. Update as your medications change.
  • Ask your doctor what each medication does. Write them down in your medication record. Do you take more medication when you have symptoms? Write that down in your record, too.

Don't let your medications run out:

  • Don't forget to refill your medications. Do so about five days before you run out or sooner if you use a mail service pharmacy.
  • Does your drugstore let your order or refill by phone or online? Be sure to ask. That might be easier for you. Also, ask if you have automatic refills with reminders.

Medication safety note — It's very dangerous to make any changes to your medications if your doctor doesn't know about it. Don't change the amount you take. Don't stop taking them. Only make changes prescribed by your doctor.

Weigh yourself every day

Weighing yourself every day is one of the best ways to know if you have extra fluid. Ask your doctor how much weight gain to watch for before alerting him or her. Usually, people should call their doctors if they gain two or more pounds overnight. Or they call if they gain five or more pounds in one week. But your doctor will tell you what's right for you. Here are tips about weighing yourself:

  • Use the same scale every day.
  • Write down your weight as soon as you get off the scale.
  • Weigh yourself each morning after you use the bathroom and before breakfast.

Is your heart failure getting worse?

Everything is going well. You feel like you're managing your heart failure. But suddenly, your symptoms get worse. This would make anyone worry. Acting quickly can make a difference. You may be less likely to go to the hospital. You also may feel better and live longer.

It’s important to pay attention to the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath, especially when you're active or lying down
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Swelling (edema) in the feet, ankles, legs, fingers or abdomen
  • Sudden, unexplained weight gain
  • Feeling a sudden tightness from clothes that you normally wear

If you have any of the symptoms listed, ask yourself the questions below. Then talk to your doctor.

  • Do  I need more pillows to sleep at night?
  • Do I have a cough that doesn't go away?
  • Did I miss any of my medicines?
  • Did I eat food with a lot of salt or sodium?
  • Have I been weighing myself every day? Or did I miss a few days in a row?
  • Have I been sick? Or is anything different going on?

Eat smart — limit salt

Too much salt can make heart failure worse. Salt, or sodium, can cause fluid to build up in the body. The extra fluid makes your heart work harder to pump the blood. It can also cause shortness of breath and swelling. That's why it's important to limit your salt, or sodium. These tips can help:

  • Ask your doctor how much salt, or sodium, you can safely eat each day.
  • Do you have a salt shaker at your table? Put it away.
  • Use other spices to flavor your food.
  • Eat fesh, frozen or no-salt-added canned foods.
  • Snack on low-salt foods such as fruits, vegetables and nuts with no added salt. Most chips and crackers have a lot of salt.
  • Read food labels. They show how much salt or sodium is in the food.
  • When eating out, Ask that your food be cooked without salt or MSG. MSG is a type of sodium. Ask for dressings or sauces "on the side." Then you can control how much you eat.

American Heart Association. About heart failure. Accessed: December 10, 2015.
Yancy CW, Jessup M, Bozkurt B, et al. 2013 ACCF/AHA guideline for the management of heart failure: A report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2013;128. Accessed: December 10, 2015.

Last Updated: February 16, 2017