“Heart failure is a chronic condition that can usually be managed by medications in conjunction with lifestyle changes and partnering with your healthcare team,” said Kismet Rasmusson, nurse practitioner for the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute. If you live with heart failure, use the acronym MAWDS to help stay healthy.
Medications – Take Them
“When heart failure is diagnosed, the goal of medications is to improve symptoms and to try to prevent progression of the disease,” Rasmusson said.
When a weak heart muscle is diagnosed, treatments will include specific medications to try to strengthen the heart, to reduce fluid retention and to improve the quality and length of life while reducing the risk of hospitalization. If the heart muscle is stiff, treatments include controlling fluid retention and treating other common conditions that may contribute to heart failure.
It’s important to keep organized about when to take your medications and to not miss any doses – even if you are feeling better. Work out a system to help remind yourself to take the medications such as using an alarm clock or a pill box. Keep a current list of your medications that you can take to all medical appointments and ask for a new list for any changes to your regimen.
RELATED: Identifying Congestive Heart Failure
Active – Stay Active Each Day
People with heart failure should exercise as regularly as able. Being active helps keep the body strong, may strengthen your heart, and improve symptoms.
Still, heart failure patients need to start slow – being regular with activity can build up stamina over time. Some can feel exhausted after just a few minutes of moderate intensity exercise. But if you continue to stay active then you can feel like you can exercise longer. Try to start with walking, but many people living with heart failure can also swim, bike, or do many other activities.
It is important to stop exercising if you start to have warning symptoms.
Weigh Yourself Daily
Heart failure patients should weigh themselves every morning and log down their weight. This is not in a vain habit but rather you are looking for a rapid increase or decrease in weight. That could show that fluid retention or loss is happening.
“Heart failure causes fluid retention and the more fluid your body builds up the more symptoms people experience. Trying to maintain your weight without fluid retention is the goal. This is done with diuretics, or water pills, and following diet recommendations,” Rasmusson said.
Diet – Follow Your Diet
In general, it’s always a good idea to have a diet with fresh fruit and vegetables, smaller food portions, and healthy options. People with heart failure also need to follow three main adjustments:
- Salt – Consume less than 2 grams; avoid using the salt shaker, and try to stay away from processed (packaged) foods. Eating less salt can decrease fluid retention.
- Fluids – Limit your intake to less than 8 cups (about 2 liters). This is especially important if you take water pills.
- Alcohol – Generally avoid alcohol. If you do drink then limit it to one beer, cocktail, or glass of wine a day. Excessive alcohol can contribute to a weak heart muscle.
Symptoms – Recognize the Symptoms
Most patients with heart failure experience shortness of breath, increased fatigue during activities, or fluid retention seen with swelling in the legs and/or abdominal bloating. Whether you have already been diagnosed or just notice these problems, these symptoms can reflect major issues.
If you are experiencing shortness of breath at rest or when laying down, have chest pain or pressure, notice significant abdominal bloating, and/or feel like your heart is racing, contact your doctor or health care professional for evaluation.
The diagnosis of heart failure can be scary one but you can battle back by focusing on daily health. To learn more visit the Intermountain Heart Institute.