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Taking care of yourself when you’re living with a diagnosis of heart failure
June 06, 2017

Those symptoms of shortness of breath, excess fluid in your legs and ankles, tiredness, confusion, and increased heart rate brought you in to see your doctor. Good for you! Recognizing that there’s something wrong is the first step to taking care of the problem.

Now that you’ve received a diagnosis, though, what can you do? Follow the regimen your physician gives you, says Dr. David Allen at St. Luke’s Heart and Vascular Center. For example, you may be prescribed medicines that work to improve your blood flow and decrease the workload on the heart — classes of drugs called enzyme inhibitors or receptor blockers; beta blockers, which can perform similar functions while also reversing some heart damage; and diuretics, which keep fluid from accumulating in your body — including in your lungs, so you can breathe more easily. Or your doctor may decide you need surgery or a heart pump. Whatever the medical treatment, you will stay the course in order to improve your health.

There are also vaccinations you may want to talk to your doctor about, such as those for flu and pneumonia, which can prevent illnesses that would put further stress on your heart. And you can also ask your doctor if new medicines become available for your condition.

In the meantime, there are things you can do yourself. Self-care is a very important factor in getting better, and it means you may need to put in a little work, says Dr. Allen At St. Luke’s, there’s a cardiac rehabilitation program that will help you along the way. You’ll need to:

  • Stop smoking, if you do — that’s first;
  • Learn to choose fresh foods, read labels and pick the right meals at a restaurant — looking for low salt and low cholesterol content;
  • Learn how to synchronize any medications you take;
  • Find and stick to a moderate exercise regimen;
  • Look for ways to reduce stress: take naps, put up your feet, and stay out of aggravating situations when possible;

Figure out the best way to sleep; if your breathing is labored when you lie flat, you may want to get a special wedge pillow that keeps you at a slight angle when you sleep without tilting only your head.

When you become self-aware, training yourself to observe your own symptoms, you’ll realize what a difference these changes can make.