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Published on January 26, 2018

man having chest pain

Living With Heart Failure

Heart failure is a scary term. While for most patients with advanced heart failure there’s no cure, it’s still possible to continue with an active lifestyle.

Heart failure is a term used when the heart does not pump blood efficiently. Main symptoms of heart failure are shortness of breath, swelling or fatigue. Causes include heart attack and untreated issues such as high blood pressure.

That’s why it is so important to develop and maintain heart healthy lifestyle as heart failure is in part preventable. Key heart healthy factors identified by the American Heart Association are known as Life’s Simple 7®:

  • Manage blood pressure
  • Control cholesterol
  • Reduce blood sugar
  • Get active (at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week
  • Eat better
  • Lose weight
  • Stop smoking

With proper treatment and lifestyle, it's possible to slow progression and manage heart failure symptoms, said Ewa Konik, MD, a specialist in cardiology and internal medicine at the Avera Heart Hospital.

A specialized Heart Failure team at the Avera Heart Hospital consists of a cardiologist, registered nurse, and pharmacist who work with patients’ primary care doctors. They provide education about heart failure, prescribe and monitor treatment, and advice on day-to-day symptom management.

Possible treatments include heart healthy lifestyle, cardiac rehabilitation, medications, surgeries such as coronary bypass or valve repair, or implanted medical devices such as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator. In advanced stages of heart failure, the team helps patients and families to make important health decisions.

“The goal is to help patients and their families to manage heart failure through education, choosing appropriate therapy, and day-to-day monitoring,” Konik said. Here are some tips for managing heart failure:

  • Every morning monitor for heart failure symptoms and weight changes. A key concern is taking on fluid weight, which puts more stress on the heart, Konik said. Many heart failure patients take a diuretic (water pill) to control water weight. Weigh yourself every morning and if weight increases by more than three pounds, call for further advice and possible diuretic dose adjustment.
  • Limit sodium to 2000 miligrams daily. Because heart failure patients tend to take on water weight, a low sodium diet is key to long-term health. The Heart Failure team helps patients learn what to look for on food labels and gives tips when cooking or dining out.
  • Take your medications as prescribed. Do not stop abruptly.
  • Develop a consistent daily program of activity. This may include walking or biking. Limit more strenuous activities like shoveling snow.
  • Don’t smoke and limit alcohol.
  • Avoid certain medications, particularly NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, Aleve).

“Be an active partner in your health care,” Konik said.

Learn more about the Heart Failure Clinic online or by calling 605-977-5000.

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