The name "heart failure" couldn't sound bleaker, and anyone who lives with it knows it is a frightening and serious medical condition. The physical symptoms of heart failure, combined with the depression and anxiety that it can sometimes provoke, may make you feel weak and vulnerable, as if you've lost control of your life.
The symptoms of heart failure can be related to the pooling of fluid in the body or can be secondary to decreased blood flow to the body. Some people with heart failure don't experience symptoms, but here are some of the more common signs:
Shortness of breath with exercise or difficulty breathing at rest or when lying down
Swollen legs, ankles, or abdomen
Dry, hacking cough, or wheezing
Other symptoms may include:
Fatigue, palpitations, or pain during normal activities
But as debilitating as heart failure can be, there is still a great deal that you can do to improve your condition. And specialists stress that management provides so much hope for your future.
"Taking control can make people with heart failure feel better," says Susan J. Bennett, DNS, RN, a professor at the Indiana University nursing school who has extensively studied the quality of life in patients with heart failure. "It feels good to be doing something positive, and there's evidence to suggest that it really can help your emotional state."
Taking control of your treatment will help more than your state of mind. By being on top of your condition -- learning about heart failure, following your doctor's recommendations, taking your medications, eating well and even exercising -- you may also greatly improve your prognosis.
Good nutrition is an important aspect of controlling heart failure. Obesity is a major contributor to the condition, and eating a diet low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables is important. In general, you also should limit the amount of alcohol and caffeine that you take in.
Experts also agree that people with heart failure should follow a low-sodium diet. But how low? Bennett observes there are problems with eating a diet too low in sodium and there are other factors to consider.
"One thing that's clear from my work is that food just doesn't taste as good when you're eating a low-sodium diet," Bennett tells WebMD. Because of this, it's a diet that's not only difficult to stick to, but also one that may contribute to nutritional problems.
"The low-sodium diet sometimes causes people to reduce their caloric and nutritional intake," says Bennett. "When you start trying to follow a 2-gram sodium diet, there are a lot of foods that you may not be able to eat. Also, foods high in protein also may be high in sodium, so when you reduce salt, you also reduce protein."