Coping With Heart Failure

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Living with heart failure is an ongoing undertaking, one that is as important as medical treatment. Most people who have heart failure experience chronic physical symptoms and may be limited in the kinds and amount of activity they can safely manage. This in turn can have an affect on quality of life and bring on mental and emotional health issues such as depression and anxiety. But despite the challenges, coping with heart failure requires developing lifestyle habits that are likely to improve your overall health and well-being.

How to Cope With Heart Failure

Ellen Lindner / Verywell

Physical

A key to living well with heart failure is carefully monitoring yourself for symptoms that suggest your condition may be changing or getting worse and indicate a need to get in touch with your healthcare team right away. Often all that is needed is a change in medication or some other relatively simple fix.

Symptoms of worsening heart failure include:

  • Swelling (edema) of feet, ankles, legs, or abdomen
  • Weight gain—often is a sign of fluid retention
  • Persistent coughing that produces white or pink blood-tinged mucus.
  • Shortness of breath during activity, at rest, or even during sleep caused by an accumulation of fluid in the lungs
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Cognitive changes—confusion, memory loss, or disorientation
  • Racing heart
  • Chest pain 

Diet and Exercise

There are concrete actions you can take in your daily life to prevent your heart failure from worsening and to improve your overall health and well-being:  

  • Diet: For most people with heart failure, adopting a heart-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean-style diet, can trim excess pounds and help keep them. This approach to eating also reduces blood vessel inflammation that often contributes to heart disease. Cutting back on salt is also key to managing cardiac problems and preventing fluid retention.
  • Weight loss: If you're overweight, losing the excess pounds will put less strain on your heart. Weigh yourself daily so extra pounds don't sneak up on you.
  • Exercise: This doesn't mean sweating for hours in a gym. Regular, moderate exercise can improve overall cardiovascular health and reduce strain on your heart and can be accomplished with walking, using an exercise bike, stretching, or lifting light weights. If you have not exercised in awhile, ask your doctor about beginning with a formal cardiac rehab program. Avoid exercising in extreme heat or cold.

Other Lifestyle Changes

Certain habits can have a serious impact on heart health and would best be broken:

  • Smoking: Exposure to smoke causes damage to your blood vessels, including the coronary arteries. If you smoke, it is critical to your health that you quit.
  • Drinking alcohol: Alcohol can be toxic to the heart muscle, and in some people, cause dilated cardiomyopathy. You may not need to quit drinking altogether; talk to your doctor about how much and how often you drink so they can guide you in whether you need to cut back and how.

Emotional

Heart failure can have an emotional impact—both at the time of diagnosis and treatment as well as on a day-to-day basis. Your heart failure symptoms may prevent you from engaging in activities you may have enjoyed before or make them more challenging. And you may feel overwhelmed by having to adjust to living with a chronic condition.

Coping with emotional issues begins with identifying them and then using effective strategies to modify them. Therefore it is important to seek professional attention, openly explain your symptoms to a healthcare professional, and follow any recommended therapy or prescribed medication.

Common emotional issues associated with heart failure include:

  • Stress: Emotional stress that goes unrecognized or untreated can raise blood pressure and exacerbate coronary artery disease (CAD), both of which worsen heart failure.Try to avoid unnecessary stress—for example, if your rush-hour commute leaves you feeling wound up before you even get to work, leave half an hour earlier so you can take your time. Adopt mind-soothing daily practices such as yoga or meditation. Turn off your TV or other devices well before bedtime so you can sleep more soundly.
  • Depression: Heart failure increases the risk of chronic depression. If you experience sadness, guilt, a lack of hope for the future, or a sense that you are a burden, you may be depressed. If you have signs of depression for more than a week, reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Social

The physical limitations of heart failure can make it difficult for you to get around like you used to. You may find yourself bowing out of social activities because of lack of energy or shortness of breath, for example. Such social adjustments can be isolating and lonely.

If you have heart failure, you may find it helpful to network with people going through the same experience. In a heart failure support group, you can learn various strategies that have worked for others in terms of managing lifestyle changes, taking medications, dealing with complications and side effects, working with insurers, and more.

Your doctor or hospital may be able to recommend a local heart failure support group, or you can check with the Heart Failure Society of America or the American Heart Association.

Prioritizing and planning get-togethers that are doable for you is essential to keeping up social ties—and a necessary effort for your overall happiness.

Consider viewing life in a different light: You might not be able to participate in family events or activities with your friends as often or for as long as you used to, but that doesn't necessarily mean these opportunities are entirely off-limits. Additional ways you may engage with others include:

  • Selecting activities that are near to your home
  • Attending a function, but volunteering to take part only in activities that don't tire you out
  • Feeling comfortable leaving an activity early if you're not feeling well
  • Virtually connecting with friends and loved ones on video chats

Practical Considerations

When it comes to living with heart failure, there are several practical considerations related to the logistics of managing your condition. Developing a system for taking your medications, monitoring your health, and keeping track of your progress are just a few.

Medications

Heart failure can require a complicated drug regimen. It is essential to have a system that can help you remember to take the necessary medications and the right dosage.

Keep a current list of all the medications your doctor has prescribed so that you can share that information with other health care providers. This list should include the brand name and generic name of each drug, the prescribed dose, the time you are supposed to take it, what it is for, possible side effects, and which side effects need to be reported to your healthcare team right away. This information can be obtained from your doctor or pharmacist if you don't have it already.

To make sure you take your medications on time, keep a simple daily checklist or use a smartphone calendar reminder or app. Alternatively, you can use a special dispenser that portions out medication by day.

Other important tips:

  • Never change your medicines or doses without discussing it first with your doctor. Heart failure medications interact with one another, and even a simple change can have far-reaching consequences.
  • Ask your doctor what to do if you inadvertently skip a dose of one of your medications. Your doctor may have instructions that differ from those on package inserts depending on the drug.
  • If you travel, make sure you have enough medicine with you to get you through your entire trip. When flying, put your medications in your carry-on bag rather than in a checked suitcase.

Heart Failure Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Man

Personal Technology

There are numerous options for technology that can help you better manage your heart failure. There are devices, apps, and tools you may consider using, in addition to your routine medical care, to monitor your condition:

  • At-home vital signs: Automated blood pressure devices or pulsometers are reasonably accurate and easy to find.
  • Fitness trackers: Wearable devices such as Fitbit, Apple Watch, and others, in addition to smartphone apps, can help you get sufficient exercise each day. These devices measure your steps, distance walked, calories burned, heart rate, and can chart your history.
  • Data collection tools: Technology can help you record and track various aspects of your health so that you, your doctor, or a specialist can observe trends over time and modify your management plan accordingly if needed. Wireless weight scales that sync to your phone are one example, as are digital food logs.
  • Mobile heart function: Some smartwatches can measure your heart rate and alert you if your sustained heart rate goes above a threshold value. Combined with a device such as the Kardiaband from AliveCor, the Apple Watch can even record and transmit an ECG so that a doctor can pinpoint what kind of heart rhythm is associated with the rapid heart rate. These devices may turn out to be particularly useful if you are having unexplained episodes of palpitations or dizziness. 

A Word From Verywell

Coping with heart failure has challenges. But there are many options at hand to stay on top of your heart failure and still have an active life. You may want to enlist loved ones to assist you if you feel overwhelmed. Your doctor can also provide resources to help you cope better.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Heart Association. Warning signs of heart failure. Updated May 31, 2017.

  2. American Heart Association. Lifestyle changes for heart failure. Updated May 31, 2017.

  3. Fioranelli M, Bottaccioli AG, Bottaccioli F, Bianchi M, Rovesti M, Roccia MG. Stress and inflammation in coronary artery disease: A review psychoneuroendocrineimmunology-based. Front Immunol. 2018;9:2031. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.02031

  4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Heart disease and depression: A two-way relationship. Published April 16, 2017.

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