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Living With Advanced Heart Failure

9 self-care and lifestyle tips.

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3. Don’t Drink Alcohol or Smoke

Tobacco smoke contains carbon monoxide and many other toxins, which interfere with the heart’s ability to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Alcohol weakens the heart’s pumping ability. Too much alcohol can cause heart failure and aggravate existing cases of the disease. 

4. Weigh Yourself Every Day 

Doctors consider rapid weight gain an early warning sign that the body is retaining salt and fluids -- evidence that the patient’s condition is worsening or that medication needs to be adjusted. Alert your doctor at once if you gain more than three pounds in a single day or five pounds in a week (or whatever amount specified by the doctor). For an accurate reading, be sure to weigh yourself at the same time each morning (after using the bathroom but before eating breakfast).

Are you overweight? Losing weight can be especially hard for advanced heart failure patients, because the vigorous exercise that helps burn calories is probably out of the question. But do what you can to shed some pounds, because extra weight puts extra strain on the heart.

5. Keep a Daily Journal

Record your weight and -- ideally -- your blood pressure, along with any change in symptoms. Call your doctor if your blood pressure goes unusually high or low. Each time you visit the doctor, take along the journal and go over it together.

6. Exercise Regularly -- but Carefully 

Even in cases of advanced heart failure, walking and other forms of aerobic exercise can help strengthen your cardiovascular system in addition to helping with weight loss. Aim for 30 minutes of gentle exercise, five days a week, at a pace that feels comfortable.

Don’t exercise right after eating or in very hot or humid conditions. And avoid any form of exercise that involves straining to push, pull, lift, or carry. These so-called “isometric” exercises can overtax an already-weakened heart. Discuss your exercise plans with your doctor or nurse.

7. Make Sure Your Immunizations Are Up to Date 

People with heart failure are highly vulnerable to certain infections, such as influenza and pneumonia. In fact, pneumonia is a leading cause of death among heart failure patients. Be sure to get an annual flu shot. If you haven’t been vaccinated against pneumonia within the last five years, ask your doctor about getting one.

8. Get Plenty of Rest 

People with advanced heart failure often find they have trouble breathing while lying down. If you have this problem, try propping yourself up with an extra pillow or two. Your goal should be to get a full eight hours of sleep a night. If you feel tired during the day, try napping after lunch. Putting your feet up for a few minutes every couple of hours can give your heart a rest.

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