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Living with Congestive Heart Failure: Take charge with a Few Basic Steps

By Kelly Buchmann, RN BSN; Ruth Kadoch-Perry, RN BSN; and Amber Shealy, RN PCCN
Registered Nurses, Telemetry/Post Interventional Units
The Chester County Hospital and Health System

Released: June 23, 2013

You or someone you know may have experienced a situation like this before. You are home after spending several days in the hospital for heart failure, only to realize the doctors and nurses gave you more information then you can remember about your heart condition. You wonder how you are going to be able to follow all their instructions about medications, diet and exercise.

Nearly five million Americans are affected by heart failure, making it the number one reason for hospitalization for Americans over the age of 65. According to the American Heart Association (AHA) there are 550, 000 new cases reported annually, largely due to an aging US population and improved survival rate in patients with heart disease.

Heart disease has the potential to damage the heart muscle causing your heart to lose its ability to pump blood to the rest of your body as effectively as a normal healthy heart. This is known as heart failure, also called congestive heart failure (CHF), a chronic (ongoing) condition. Because of the poor pump, fluid within the body does not circulate properly and accumulates either in the lungs or in the body tissues, most commonly the feet and legs.

Finding out you have heart failure or heart disease is overwhelming; however, there are certain things you can do to make your day-to-day management easier. Keep the hospital discharge instructions handy. They can help you become organized with your current medications, doctors' appointments, and tests that will help to monitor your disease. One of the most important things you can do is to take your medications as prescribed and avoid missing doses. Your doctor prescribes these medications based on many studies that show these to be the best medications to optimize your heart function.

Help your heart to function at its best by avoiding foods that can put your heart at further risk. A heart healthy diet consists of low fat, low cholesterol and low sodium choices. Restrict salt including processed foods which can contain a large amount of salt. Be diligent about the hidden salt in your diet so read package labels. Keep a diary to record blood pressure (as needed), weight, fluid intake, or changes in your health. Be proactive by weighing yourself at the same time on the same scale each morning after voiding. Call your doctor right away if you notice a weight gain of 2-3 pounds in a day (or 5 pounds in a week), increased swelling or shortness of breath; these are all signs of worsening heart failure.

If possible, instill the support of family members or friends to help you achieve a healthy heart through a healthy lifestyle. They can help you stay on track with your prescribed medication, follow a diet as directed, and reach a goal to obtain optimum health. Use the resources provided at discharge to become more educated about your condition. The most effective treatment plan is one that you can understand and follow. It is easier to manage CHF on a daily basis than to wait for symptoms to occur. If managed properly, you can prevent worsening of the disease and re-hospitalization.


This article was published as part of the Daily Local News Medical Column series which appears every Monday. It has been reprinted by permission of the Daily Local News.


Last Updated: 6/28/2013