Living Well With Heart Failure
Last reviewed and revised on April 10, 2012
By Paulette Chandler, M.D., M.P.H.
Have you ever had your car break down on the highway? If you had previous problems such as stalling or warning indicators on the dashboard, you may berate yourself for ignoring these warning signals.
Just as there are certain maintenance strategies for keeping a car's engine running smoothly, there are daily tune-up strategies for keeping the engine of the body the heart operating optimally even when it has been damaged, as with congestive heart failure (CHF).
CHF is a gradual weakening of the heart muscle that impairs the heart's ability to pump forcefully. Common causes of CHF include coronary artery disease, prior heart attack, long-standing high blood pressure, overuse of alcohol, obesity, diabetes and a faulty heart valve. Shortness of breath and fatigue as blood flow diminishes to the kidneys, brain, skin and other vital tissues are warning signals of CHF. You may also develop swollen feet, legs and belly.
Stress management, healthy eating and daily exercise adjusted to your energy level are essential tools for heart repair and tune-up.
Emotional stress and anxiety make the heart work harder. This can potentially worsen heart failure. Exercise strengthens the heart muscle and cardiovascular system, elevates mood and helps your body use oxygen better relieving heart failure symptoms. Patients with CHF who participate in exercise programs have profound decreases in hospital readmissions for CHF.
Cardiac rehabilitation programs often will include supervised activities such as cycling on stationary bike or using a treadmill. Cardiac "rehab" is an excellent way to improve your ability to enjoy activities of daily living, reduce your heart disease risk factors and increase your knowledge of your disease and how to manage it.
Listed below are some basic guidelines for living well with heart failure.
Finally, if you have shortness of breath or excessive fatigue during any activity, slow down or stop the activity. Other warning signals are pain or pressure in the chest, neck, back, arm or jaw, or light-headedness. Call doctor if you have symptoms that persist even with rest.
Paulette Chandler, M.D., M.P.H., is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an attending physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital.