Learning About Heart Failure

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What is heart failure?

Heart

Heart failure means that your heart muscle does not pump as much blood as your body needs. Failure does not mean that your heart has stopped. It means that your heart is not pumping as well as it should.

Your body has an amazing ability to make up for heart failure. It may do such a good job that you don't know you have a disease. But at some point, your heart and body will no longer be able to keep up. Then fluid starts to build up in your lungs and other parts of your body.

What can you expect when you have heart failure?

Heart failure is a lifelong (chronic) disease.

Treatment may be able to slow the disease and help you feel better. But heart failure tends to get worse over time. Despite this, there are many steps you can take to feel better and stay healthy longer.

Early on, your symptoms may not be too bad. As heart failure gets worse, symptoms typically get worse, and you may need to limit your activities. Heart failure can also get worse suddenly. If this happens, you need emergency care. Then, after treatment, your symptoms may go back to being stable (which means they stay the same) for a long time.

Heart failure can lead to other health problems, such as heart rhythm problems. Over time, your treatment options may change, especially as your symptoms get worse.

As heart failure gets worse, hospice palliative care can help improve the quality of your life. You can do advance care planning to decide what kind of care you want at the end of your life.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of heart failure start to happen when your heart can't pump enough blood to the rest of your body.

In the early stages of heart failure, you may:

  • Feel tired easily.
  • Be short of breath when you exert yourself.
  • Feel like your heart is pounding or racing (palpitations).
  • Feel weak or dizzy.

As heart failure gets worse, fluid starts to build up in your lungs and other parts of your body. This may cause you to:

  • Feel short of breath even at rest.
  • Have swelling (edema), especially in your legs, ankles, and feet.
  • Gain weight. This may happen over just a day or two, or more slowly.
  • Cough or wheeze, especially when you lie down.

How is heart failure treated?

  • You'll probably take several medicines.
  • You might attend cardiac rehabilitation (rehab) to get education and support that help you make lifestyle changes and stay as healthy as possible.
  • You may get a heart device. A pacemaker helps your heart pump blood. An ICD can stop abnormal heart rhythms.

How can you care for yourself?

There are many steps you can take to feel better and stay healthy longer. These steps are an important part of treatment. They can help you stay active and enjoy life.

  • Take your medicine the right way. Avoid medicines that can make your symptoms worse.
  • Check your weight and symptoms every day. Know what to do if your symptoms get worse.
  • Limit sodium. This helps keep fluid from building up. It may help you feel better.
  • Be active. Exercise regularly, but don't exercise too hard.
  • Be heart-healthy. Eat healthy foods, stay at a healthy weight, limit alcohol, and don't smoke.
  • Stay as healthy as possible. Avoid colds and flu, get help for depression and anxiety, and manage stress.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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