What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure occurs when the heart does not pump as much blood as the body needs. Failure does not mean that the heart has stopped pumping but rather that it is not pumping as well as it should. Over time, this causes fluid buildup in the lungs and other parts of the body. Fluid buildup can cause shortness of breath, fatigue, swollen ankles, and other problems. By taking medicines regularly, reducing sodium (salt) in diet, checking weight every day, and making lifestyle changes, you can feel better and live longer.

Follow-up care is a key part of treatment and safety. It is important to see your doctor regularly and go to all the appointments. Call doctor if you are having any problems. It's also a good idea to know test results and keep a list of your medicines.

How can you take care of yourself at home?

  • Be safe with your medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Don’t skip doses.
  • Call the doctor or pharmacist if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Do not take any vitamins, over-the-counter medicine, or herbal products without talking to doctor or pharmacist first.
  • Do not take ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) without talking to doctor first. Those could make heart failure worse.

Heart Failure Diet

The doctor may suggest that you limit your sodium intake to 2,000 milligrams (mg) a day or less. That is less than 1 teaspoon of salt a day, including all the salt the patient eats in cooking or in packaged foods. Processed foods, fast food or restaurant meals are very high in sodium.  These meals should be avoided as much as possible.

You may have to limit liquids. Ask the doctor how much liquid you are allowed to drink each day. This liquid includes foods such as soups and watermelon.  

Monitoring your Weight

You should weigh yourself without clothing at the same time each day. Record your weight. Call the doctor if you gain more than 3 pounds in 2 to 3 days. A sudden weight gain may mean that heart failure is getting worse.

Here is a tool to help you keep track of your daily weight

Lifestyle changes

Do not smoke. Smoking can make a heart condition worse. Quitting smoking may be the most important step you take to protect your heart. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good. 

Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. Too much alcohol can cause health problems.

Avoid getting sick from colds and the flu. Ensure you have had a pneumococcal vaccine shot.  It is also important to get a flu shot each year. 

When should you call for help?

Call 911 if you have symptoms of sudden heart failure such as:

  • Severe trouble breathing
  • Coughing up pink, foamy mucus
  • A new irregular or rapid heartbeat

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or increased shortness of breath
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or if you feel like you may faint
  • You have sudden weight gain, such as 3 pounds or more in 2 to 3 days
  • You have increased swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet
  • You are suddenly so tired or weak that you cannot do your usual activities

Where can you learn more about heart failure?

  1. Log on to your Henry Ford MyChart account and go to the left hand side box "Health Library". 
    Enter W456 and click "Search" to learn more about “Learning About Heart Failure”
    Please ask any HFHS clinical representative for assistance in obtaining a Henry Ford MyChart account.
  2. Edith and Benson Ford Heart and Vascular Institute 
  3. Heart Failure Society of America
  4. American Heart Association 
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