For Your Patients: Self-Care for Heart Failure

— A brief overview of strategies that can maximize wellness

Illustration of hands holding a heart with a + sign in a circle over a heart in failure

How well you care for your health outside of the office makes a big difference in how well you feel with heart failure and the course the disease takes. Simple strategies have proven useful for many people living with heart failure.

Your physician will ask you to track your symptoms and weight daily. Keeping a notebook or using a smartphone app can help you watch for changes that signal a change in your condition. The healthcare team may provide specific instructions on how to increase the dose of your diuretic medication based on certain changes. Let the team know if you gain more than about 4 lb in 3 days or experience increasing breathlessness (dyspnea) or swelling (edema).

Consider using a pillbox to help you stick with your medication regimen and not miss a dose.

Watching your salt intake to reduce the amount of sodium you consume might be reasonable to help reduce symptoms of congestion, if you have them. The same is true for keeping your liquid intake to less than 6 to 8 cups if you have advanced heart failure, particularly if your blood sodium levels are low. However, the scientific evidence is not very solid that these strategies really help, particularly for sodium restriction beyond the standard recommendation for most adults to keep to less than 2,300 mg per day.

A healthy diet overall, though, has strong evidence of a wide variety of benefits. Eating plenty of vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and limiting fatty meats and sweets has even been shown to improve heart failure and reduce heart failure hospitalizations.

Heart failure symptoms can make physical activity more difficult. However, regular exercise that's just intense enough to lead to mild or moderate breathlessness is both safe and healthy. Studies have shown that walking or cycling and resistance exercises with weights or calisthenics improves heart failure symptoms and helps your heart function better, as well as reducing hospitalizations.

Read previous installments in this series:

For Your Patients: What is Heart Failure?

For Your Patients: How Is Heart Failure Diagnosed?

For Your Patients: Getting the Most From Heart Failure Visits

"Medical Journeys" is a set of clinical resources reviewed by doctors, meant for physicians and other healthcare professionals as well as the patients they serve. Each episode of this 12-part journey through a disease state contains both a physician guide and a downloadable/printable patient resource. "Medical Journeys" chart a path each step of the way for physicians and patients and provide continual resources and support, as the caregiver team navigates the course of a disease.