UK HealthCare

What to do After a Heart Failure Diagnosis

Heart checkup
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The University of Kentucky Public Relations & Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. This week's column is by Andrew R. Kolodziej, M.D., cardiologist and medical director of the heart transplant program at UK HealthCare.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 14, 2022) Heart failure can be a harrowing diagnosis. But what does it mean? Heart failure means that your heart isn’t pumping blood as well as it should. When this happens, blood often backs up and fluid can build up in the lungs, causing shortness of breath and other symptoms.

There are several reasons for heart failure. The first is muscle failure in which the muscle is weak from a previous heart attack, called systolic heart failure, or from a stiff heart muscle called diastolic heart failure. It is important to have an understanding of the reason for your heart failure is as there are different medical treatment options as well as surgical options depending on the type of muscle dysfunction.

Here as some tips to manage your heart failure diagnosis:

Take your medications as directed

Even though treatment of fluid congestion is the primary therapy and symptoms can be controlled with diuretic medications, other therapies have been proven to improve survival.

There are four medication classes proven to be effective in improving symptoms and survival. Talk to your doctor about what medication is right for you.

Have a heart failure action plan

Medication is crucial to treating heart failure, but education about this condition and its symptoms are also very important.

Despite improving medical therapy, patients can still retain fluid and need diuretic therapy. Diuretics will get rid of the fluid through the kidneys. Understanding how to self-medicate with diuretics can prevent trips to the hospital. Learn to recognize the symptoms of fluid retention such as increasing shortness of breath, the inability to lie flat, increased breathing difficulty with activities and weight gain.

It is important to discuss the plan of action with your heart failure cardiologist to have a mutual understanding of when to self-administer the additional diuretic medication. This usually keeps patients out of hospitals when combined with lifestyle changes.

Change your lifestyle

Sodium sensitivity and sodium intake are directly related to fluid retention. It’s important that patients with heart failure limit the sodium in their diet. Our bodies usually only require 220 mg of sodium a day, but the average American consumes approximately 6,000 mg per day. Heart failure patients should not exceed 2,000 mg per day as well as keep fluid consumption to less than two liters or 67 ounces per day.

Heart failure is a chronic inflammatory condition and so an anti-inflammatory diet is recommended. Often patients with heart failure have underlying health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity as well as coronary artery disease so they are advised to transition to a plant-based diet with abstinence from animal products such as meats and dairy. A plant-based diet has been shown to improve those conditions and thus decrease the overall risk of disease progression and complications.

Attend cardiac rehabilitation

Exercise has been proven to improve symptoms and survival in heart failure patients. In fact, all heart failure patients are usually referred to cardiac rehab with further emphasis on a home exercise regimen to continue long after initial rehabilitation.