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5 Guidelines for Living Well with Heart Failure

Pay Close Attention to your Body

Heart Failure MA

When you have heart failure, the heart can’t pump as well as it should. Fluid may back up into the lungs and legs, and some parts of the body don’t get enough oxygen-rich blood to work normally. These problems lead to the symptoms you feel such as shortness of breath, leg swelling, dry hacky cough, dizziness, or the need to sleep sitting up.

Living with heart failure means you need to pay close attention to your body and how you feel, every day. That way, if a problem occurs, you can get help before it becomes too severe. You'll need to watch for changes in your symptoms. If symptoms stay about the same from one day to the next, your heart failure is stable. But if symptoms start to get worse, it's time to take action.

Follow these five guidelines for managing heart failure effectively:

1. Take your medications as directed.

Patients with heart failure may need multiple medications as prescribed by your doctor. Each medication treats a different symptom and has its own instructions and rules. It’s important to always take medications as prescribed and don’t stop taking them even if you start to feel better.

2. Get some exercise every day.

Being active, even for just 30 minutes a day, can help you feel better, and may decrease your symptoms and improve your heart’s function. You may also benefit from a cardiac rehabilitation program which helps you exercise safely with frequent monitoring from professionals.

3. Watch how much you drink.

Limit your fluid intake to 2000 mL, or eight cups, per day to keep your body from retaining too much water. Keep in mind, some foods are considered fluids such as pudding, gelatin (Jell-O), soup, Popsicles, and ice cream.

4. Limit sodium intake.

Most of the sodium you eat is added to your food when it’s made in a factory or restaurant so it’s easy to get more than you need. To keep your heart in a healthy range, make sure not to exceed 2,000 mg of sodium per day. You’ll need to read food labels to know the amount of sodium per serving. You can also look for foods marked low sodium, no salt added, and unsalted.

5. Weigh in daily.

By weighing yourself every day at the same time, you will be able to determine what your normal weight should be. Use the same scale each time and try to wear similar clothing. If you notice significant changes in weight gain (two or more pounds in a day or five or more pounds in a week), you could be retaining too much fluid and should contact your doctor.

Better Dining with Congestive Heart Failure

iStock-1043479218When you have congestive heart failure, it may seem like your options for dining out are limited. But if you take the steps to be an informed diner and make simple substitutions to your food, you’ll be able to enjoy a wide selection of tasty meal options. Follow these tips when eating out:

  • Ask the waiter/waitress about food preparation and ingredients used to prepare the food.
  • Avoid selecting foods prepared with gravy, soy sauce, or MSG (monosodium glutamate), or those that are cured or smoked.
  • Do not touch the saltshaker on the table.
  • Choose fresh fruit, juice, or salad with olive oil and vinegar to start the meal.
  • Choose an entrée that is grilled, baked, or broiled.
  • Order salad dressing on the side. Use it sparingly. Better yet, order olive oil and vinegar for your salad.
  • Avoid olives, pickles, croutons, bacon bits, cheese, mayonnaise, and cream-based or marinated salads.
  • Select “plain” foods such as whole grain breads (instead of muffins or croissants), baked or broiled potatoes, plain rice, or pasta.
  • Want dessert? How about fresh fruit or fruit salad, gelatin, or angel food cake.

Fast Food Sodium Watch

Be on the lookout for menu items that are high in sodium and swap them out for a healthier alternative. Tip: Stay below 2,000 mg of sodium every day!

Restaurant Food Item Sodium (mg) 
 Burger King® Hamburger
Whopper with Cheese
 Chinese Take-Out Steamed Vegetables/Brown Rice
Kung Pao Chicken
 McDonald's® McChicken
Quarter Pounder with Cheese
 Pizza Hut® Slice Veggie Lovers
Slice Pepperoni Lovers
 Popeyes® Naked Chicken Wrap
Chicken Breast
 Wendy's® Crispy Chicken Sandwich
Quarter Pounder Single Hamburger

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