6 Ways to Prevent Congestive Heart Failure

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Knowing how to prevent congestive heart failure is an important part of staying healthy. While there are certain preexisting conditions that can cause it (e.g., structural defects and damage from a heart attack), there are modifiable lifestyle factors—being overweight, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and lack of exercise—that have the power to both increase your risk of heart disease and hasten its progression.

Take charge of your health by adopting these habits to combat this serious cardiovascular concern.

Prevention Tips

Not only will these prevention strategies help you reduce your risk of congestive heart failure, but each brings with it myriad other benefits in terms of your overall health and wellness.

Manage Chronic Conditions

If you have high blood pressure or coronary artery disease—the two most common causes of heart failure—it's important to work with a practitioner to get them under control. Establishing a baseline of blood and lipid panels and other biomarkers with your primary care physician can be helpful in the early detection of any potential risk.

Other chronic diseases that may contribute to congestive heart failure include diabetes, high cholesterol, and thyroid disorders.

A diet and lifestyle change may be helpful in managing chronic conditions. For example, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is a research-backed and effective method of reducing high blood pressure. Work with your doctor or seek out a nutritionist to create an action plan for incorporating new diet and lifestyle changes.

Quit Smoking

The chemicals found in cigarettes are a direct contributor to the arterial damage that can lead to congestive heart failure. Secondhand smoke can be just as harmful, as carbon monoxide can take the place of oxygen in your blood, making your heart have to pump harder to supply your system with vital oxygen.

Avoid taking up smoking, and if you're already a smoker, implement tools to help you quit, such as developing a custom program for yourself, harnessing your willpower, and utilizing certain cessation products to help you kick the habit.

Limit Alcohol

A 2014 study showed that excess alcohol can lead to increased cardiovascular risk and is one of the most frequent causes of reversible hypertension and atrial fibrillation. Light to moderate drinking, defined as two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, however, is associated with reduced mortality risk.

Keeping within the defined range of light drinking seems to be the ticket for preventing the risk of heart failure. However, alcohol is a known carcinogen, so even one drink daily may still increase your risk of cancer.

Reduce Sodium

A sodium-laden diet causes fluid to accumulate within the body and places added stress on the cardiovascular system. If you have high blood pressure, a primary risk factor for heart failure, it may be necessary to reduce your intake of table salt, processed foods, and high-sodium foods, such as bacon, ham, and chips.

Canned soups and canned vegetables may have hidden sodium, too; look for low-sodium varieties. Focus your diet on heart-healthy foods, such as plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, high fiber foods such as beans and oats, and healthy fats such as olive oil, salmon, and avocado.

Increase Exercise

Physical activity is a powerful prevention tool not only for congestive heart failure but for numerous other chronic diseases, and it's great for supporting cardiovascular health. Aerobic workouts that specifically increase heart rate, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) have been shown to help strengthen the heart and help improve functionality by boosting circulation.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 30 minutes per day (150 minutes per week) of moderate-intensity exercise, such as gardening, brisk walking, dancing, or doubles tennis; or 15 minutes per day (75 minutes per week) of vigorous-intensity exercise, such as running, swimming laps, hiking uphill, or singles tennis.

It's important to note that those 30-minute sessions can be broken down into three 10-minute sessions or two 15-minute sessions, which may make it easier to squeeze fitness into a busy schedule. Work with your primary care physician and/or a certified personal trainer to outline an exercise regimen that's right for you.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Carrying extra body weight on your frame can make blood circulation more difficult and result in added pressure and stress on the heart. Losing a few pounds may make a big difference in preventing heart failure and promoting general heart health.

Utilizing certain tools for weight loss such as goal setting and using a food journal to log daily intake may be helpful in keeping you mindful of portions and the types of foods you regularly consume.

To estimate your ideal daily calorie intake for weight loss, use a calculator to find your personalized target goal.

Helpful Facts

There are some key facts to keep in mind when it comes to congestive heart failure:

  • If one or more of your family members has congestive heart failure, the first step is to get yourself checked with a complete physical.
  • Anyone can develop congestive heart failure. However, it's relatively uncommon for someone under the age of 70.
  • Heart failure may progress slowly and at first show no symptoms.
  • If the disease is caught early, patients can immediately take steps to keep it from progressing and live longer healthier lives.​
  • If the root cause of congestive heart failure can be treated or reversed, the disease may actually disappear.

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure

If you're at risk for heart failure, you'll want to have any symptoms checked out as soon as possible by a doctor. Symptoms include:

  • Weight gain and swollen feet, ankles, or abdomen caused by fluid buildup
  • Enlarged neck veins
  • Poor appetite, indigestion, nausea, or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing during activities or while lying down
  • Trouble sleeping or difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue and feeling faint
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dry hacking cough, especially while lying down
  • Frequent nighttime urination

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

A Word From Verywell

Congestive heart failure is a serious condition, but a diagnosis doesn't mean you don't have options. You can still lead a long, healthy life. There are several successful treatments to keep any underlying health conditions under control, including prescription angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, beta-blockers or diuretics (water pills), and medical interventions, such as angioplasty (using a balloon to open up arterial blockage) or stenting (widening an artery with a metal device).

Additionally, further progression of the disease can still be prevented by modifying diet and lifestyle factors. Monitor your health and work closely with your doctor and personal support network of family and friends to implement sustainable, healthy changes.

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