Living with Heart Failure

Maureen Robb's picture
By Maureen Robb on February 25, 2019

Life is for living, and we all want to make the most of our lives at every age and every stage.

This is true whether you have glowing health or are managing a chronic condition like heart failure.

But if you are one of the nearly six million adults who live with heart failure in the U.S., how can you overcome the fatigue and other challenges that accompany your diagnosis?

According to Stephen G. Phillips, M.D., director of Carilion Clinic's Heart Failure Clinic in Roanoke, age is only one factor that can lead to heart failure.

"We usually see it in people over 65, but you can develop it at any age if you smoke, have high blood pressure or other problems,” he said.

A diagnosis also doesn’t mean that your heart stops, but that it isn’t pumping enough blood and oxygen to fulfill your body’s needs.

If you live with heart failure, you can have trouble performing routine tasks like climbing stairs, or even walking.

The signs of heart failure include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Increased swelling in your legs, feet, ankles or abdomen
  • Gaining two or three pounds in a day or four or five pounds in a week as fluids build up

According to Dr. Phillips, about half of those diagnosed die within five years. With proper treatment and lifestyle changes, however, you can still enjoy a good and varied life after a heart failure diagnosis.

What Your Doctor Can Do
Your doctor might prescribe medications that will help you breathe better, manage swelling and be more active.

These may include:

  • Diuretics, which help expel excess fluids from the body
  • Beta blockers to regulate your heart rate and manage your blood pressure
  • ACE inhibitors to relax your blood vessels
  • Digoxin, which reduces the heart rate

What You Can Do
You'll be advised to eat a heart-healthy diet, and to watch out for added fats, sugar and salt.

Eating too much salt—more than 1,500 milligrams daily—can lead to retaining water, which is hard on your heart.

A heart-healthy diet includes:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Whole-grain breads
  • Low-sodium cheeses
  • Cereals that have 5 grams or more of fiber and no added sugars
  • Nonfat or low-fat dairy products

Ask your doctor about how intensely, and how often, you should exercise. You may think exercise would be an added stress on your body, but the opposite is true for most heart failure patients.

Exercise such as walking, swimming, cycling or other activities can help to strengthen your heart. Lifting light weights can also help.

Other changes in your habits can also make you feel better and live longer with heart failure. They include:

  • Controlling blood pressure through diet and exercise
  • Not smoking
  • Maintaining a suitable weight
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Controlling stress

You may also choose to have your condition monitored from home instead of having to frequently visit your doctor.

With remote monitoring, your physician can implant a tiny wireless sensor in your pulmonary artery that will transmit your vital signs to his or her office. 

A Plan for Life
As you learn to live with heart failure, it's important to know your particular symptoms.

Call your doctor if you detect any changes.

Above all, take care of yourself, and enlist the aid of your friends and family to help you stick to healthy habits.

Being diagnosed with heart failure is a serious event, but a positive attitude can help you add years to your life.