How can I take an active role in managing my heart failure?

Heart failure is a serious condition but there are things you can do to stay out of hospital, feel better, and live a longer, healthier life.

Read more to find out what you need to make it easier to achieve these goals.

The NPS MedicineWise program on heart failure has been developed in collaboration with the National Heart Foundation of Australia.

How can I take an active role in managing my heart failure?

How can I take an active role in managing my heart failure?

Heart failure is a serious condition but there are things you can do to stay out of hospital, feel better, and live a longer, healthier life.

Read more to find out what you need to make it easier to achieve these goals.

The NPS MedicineWise program on heart failure has been developed in collaboration with the National Heart Foundation of Australia.

 
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What can help me manage my heart failure?

Heart failure management is often a combination of medicine, diet and exercise, and other lifestyle changes, like stopping smoking or reducing the amount of alcohol you drink.

It’s a good idea to:

It may also be helpful to have scales at home so that you can weigh yourself regularly.

Your community pharmacist can help you manage your medicines and answer any questions you may have.

Find out more about medicines to treat heart failure

Learn more about keeping a medicines list

Know when to ask for help

One of the most important parts of managing your heart failure is knowing when you need medical attention.

Your health professional will tell you what changes to look out for. Call your GP within 24 hours if you are feeling worse than usual, or experiencing:

  • swelling in your ankles, legs, or around of the middle of your body (you might recognise this if your socks, shoes or pants are feeling tight)
  • loss or gain of more than 2 kg of weight in 2 days
  • a bad cough, especially at night, or a new cough that won’t go away
  • trouble breathing
  • trouble lying down (you have to sit up to sleep)
  • feeling dizzy or like you are going to faint
  • a feeling like your heart is racing and won’t slow down (heart palpitations).

Call 000 and ask for an ambulance if you (or someone you care for) have any symptoms of a heart attack.

Common symptoms include: pain, pressure, heaviness or tightness in the chest, arm, back, jaw, neck or shoulder, dizziness, or difficulty breathing.

Visit the Heart Foundation to find out more about the warning signs of a heart attack.

For more information visit the Heart Foundation’s website https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/conditions/heart-failure

I have been feeling down since my heart failure diagnosis, who can I speak to?

If you’ve recently been told you or a loved one has heart failure, you may be overwhelmed with emotions. You might be sad, angry, anxious, lonely or confused. This is all normal.

Find someone to talk to. It could be someone in your healthcare team, a family member, or a friend. Keep active and maintain your connection with family and friends. There are many people and organisations who can give you support.

These include:

  • your GP, who can offer you choices based on your individual mental health needs
  • Beyond Blue’s free support service, which you can reach by calling 1300 224 636 or reading some of the resources on their website.
  • Veterans’ Mates, which offers free and confidential counselling for veterans and their families via Open Arms. To access this service call 1800 011 046 at any time or visit www.openarms.gov.au

It’s vital to pay attention to your mental health. Managing your emotional wellbeing is an important part of heart failure management.

For more information visit the Heart Foundation’s website https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/conditions/heart-failure

Do I need to reduce the amount of fluid in my food and drink?

Yes. When you have heart failure, your heart doesn’t pump properly, and this can cause fluid to build up in your body. This can make you weigh more and make your ankles, legs or other parts of your body swell up.

It is important to recognise when fluid in your body is building up so you can do something early. To manage your fluid, talk to your nurse, doctor or health professional about how much fluid you can have each day.

You will need to monitor the amount of fluid in both your food and drink to reduce the likelihood of having fluid build-up. Your doctor will advise how much fluid you can have each day.

Download My fluid plan from the Heart Foundation’s website to monitor your daily fluids.

A fluid is considered to be a food or drink that is liquid at room temperature. As well as being aware of the fluid in your drinks, you also need to be aware of fluids in:

  • fruits such as watermelon or grapes
  • ice creams, sorbets, gelatos and ice blocks
  • savoury foods with a lot of liquid, like soup.

There are other ways to reduce your fluid intake.

  • Avoid food that is salty or spicy, because it will make you thirsty.
  • Drink cold, instead of hot, drinks to feel refreshed.
  • Plan ahead so that you can have small amounts of fluids, regularly throughout the day.

Do I need to have less salt?

Yes, people with heart failure need to monitor the amount of salt in their diet. This is because salt makes your body hold onto fluid, which can cause a fluid build-up.

The Heart Foundation recommends 5 g of salt (2000 mg sodium) as a daily maximum amount, which is about a teaspoon.

On food labels, salt is listed as sodium and 5 g of salt contains 2000 mg of sodium. When reading food labels, look for foods with less than 400 mg of sodium per 100 grams. Ideally, people with heart failure should eat foods with less than 120 mg of sodium per 100 grams.

The Heart Foundation has a sodium to salt converter on its website.

You could reduce salt by:

  • cooking foods yourself without adding salt 
  • avoiding fast food and takeaway
  • replacing salt with herbs, spices, and other sources of flavour
  • avoiding foods with high levels of salt, such as processed and packaged foods
  • eating a diet with lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and lean meat.

Reproduced with permission from Living well with Heart Failure © 2016. National Heart Foundation of Australia.

You might find it helpful to speak to a dietitian about lowering salt or making other changes to your diet. The names of registered dietitians can be found on the Dietitians Australia website. Ask your GP to refer you to a dietitian as this may allow you to claim some money back from the cost of a consultation.

To learn more about reducing salt from your diet, read the Heart Foundation’s resource on salt and heart health.

What kind of physical activity is suitable for me?

Regular physical activity will help your heart get stronger and make you less tired. Before you start, talk to your nurse, doctor or other health professional about the kind of movement and physical activity that you can do regularly to improve your health.

Understand the type of physical activity that is safe for you and how you could gradually increase the amount of movement you do over time.

For more information visit the Heart Foundation’s website https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/conditions/heart-failure

I’ve been finding it difficult to make lifestyle changes. Where can I get support?

Some lifestyle changes are easier to stick to than others.

I care for someone who has heart failure, what do I need to know?

This will depend on the level of care that you are providing. In general, it’s helpful to:

For more resources on caring for people with heart failure, visit the St Vincent’s Heart Health page for family and carers.

For more information visit the Heart Foundation’s website https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/conditions/heart-failure

Read more about living well with heart failure