Living With Heart Failure

heart failure
Author: Natalie Depto-Vesey
Date: February 25, 2016

By Rhonda Trexler, MS, RN, COS-C, CCP


Heart failure, also known as Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), does not mean the heart has stopped working. It means that the heart’s pumping power is less than normal and cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body or cannot fill with enough blood.

When the right side of the heart weakens, the blood coming from the body to the heart can get backed up, leading to the symptoms of weight gain, swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, and possibly the abdomen.  When the left side of the heart weakens, fluid backs up in the lungs leading to shortness of breath and cough.  Other symptoms of heart failure include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, exercise intolerance, and rapid heart rate. Many people have both right and left sided heart failure.


The most common signs and symptoms of heart failure are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden weight gain (more than 3 lbs in a day or 5 lbs in a week)
  • Swelling in your belly, arms, legs, hands, or feet
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Coughing or wheezing what does not go away
  • Fast or irregular heart beat
  • Decreased appetite


There are many causes of heart failure, the most common being coronary artery disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Heart failure is more common in patients over age 65 but can be found in any age group.  Some other risk factors for heart failure can include:

  • Coronary Artery Disease (build-up of plaque in the arteries)
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Obesity/Overweight
  • Diabetes
  • High Cholesterol or Triglycerides
  • Past Heart Attack or Myocardial Infarction (MI)
  • Abnormal Heart Valves
  • Heart Muscle Disease (or cardiomyopathy)
  • Severe Lung Problems


Although there is no cure for heart failure once you have it, you can control symptoms and treat the underlying causes. Four very important areas that need to be addressed to help you manage your heart health are:


There are a multitude of medications designed to help those with heart failure and they can all do it in a different way so get to know your own prescribed medications. Know what your medications are for, the side effects, and when to take them.

  • Get all your medications from ONE pharmacy.
  • Use a pill planner to keep track of your medicines.
  • Refill your medicines before you run out.
  • When traveling, carry medicines with you and not in your luggage. Take a prescription for all medicines you take.
  • Do not give your medicines to anyone else.
  • Store medicine in a cool, dry place.
  • Keep medicines out of the reach of children.


Heart failure limits what you can do but a personalized exercise plan from a therapist can help you liver better. Always talk to your doctor before starting an exercise plan.  Choose activities that you enjoy and try to exercise most days of the week.  Your exercise plan will:

  • Strengthen your muscles.
  • Help you walk safely.
  • Make it easier for you to do some of your normal activities.
  • Help your heart pump better over time.
  • Reduce swelling in your feet and legs.
  • Help your lungs and can help prevent problems like pneumonia.


Following a heart healthy diet is one of the best things you can do for your heart and overall health. A heart healthy diet includes eating a variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and lean meats.

One example to manage your heart failure is to control your sodium (salt) intake. Talk to your healthcare provider about how much sodium you should have in your diet.

Other smart nutrition ideas to help you stay on track are:

  • Steer clear of processed food–many have high sodium amounts. Instead, enjoy the taste of foods by using herbs, spices, and flavorings that blend well with particular food.
  • Opt for low-fat alternatives such as egg whites, cholesterol-free eggs, poultry without skin, fish, tuna or salmon packed in water, tofu, dried peas and beans, skim or 1% milk, olive or canola oil, and sherbet, icemilk, and non-fat or frozen yogurt.
  • Keep any eye on your potassium levels. Some medications that are used to treat heart failure can cause you to lose potassium. A balanced potassium level is essential to heart health. Foods rich in potassium are bananas, mile, oranges, orange juice, potatoes with skins on, prunes,  raisins, and tomatoes.
  • Be conscious of the fat content and sodium levels of meals prepared by others or while dining out. Let those who prepare your meals know about your heart healthy meal plan. Eat a smaller portion when you don’t know the ingredients and do not have other choices.


It is very common to have depression or anxiety when dealing with any health concerns. Depression and anxiety are not always something we can control on our own.  Counselors can help you work through feelings of anxiety and depression.  Some suggestions of things you can do on your own are:

Take a mental vacation, find your own peaceful place using relaxation breathing, imagery, or distraction to help you cope.

  • Take one day at a time
  • Stay connected with friends and family
  • Join a support group
  • Start a journal with notes about your journey to a healthier heart

Rhonda Trexler is the Clinical Manager Education/Staff Development and Specialty Trexler, Rhonda 2016Services. She has worked in home care for more than 20 years. Her duties include staff orientation and on-going staff education. She works closely with all clinical staff and serves as a resource and a mentor.


This material is provided for educational purposes only and is not to replace medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

References: Mayo Clinic website. Heart Failure.

Home Nursing Agency Preferred Patient Program for Heart Failure, Your Guide to a Healthier Heart 

For educational videos on Heart Failure and how you can stay healthy, go to



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