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Heart Failure Health Center

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Manage Heart Failure With Lifestyle

Having heart failure can leave you feeling out control. But through diet, exercise, and self-monitoring you can make a real difference in both your symptoms and your outlook.

Staying in Control

There are a number of other ways that people with heart failure can take control of their disease. The most important is to see your doctor regularly and to establish an effective partnership with medical professionals. Good management of your condition improves your prognosis, reduces the chances of being hospitalized, and improves your quality of life, according to Bennett.

Sticking with your drug treatment is also crucial. No matter how beneficial a drug has been proven to be in clinical studies, it's not going to help you unless you take it. This isn't true only for your heart-failure medications. Other conditions -- like high blood pressure or diabetes -- can also make heart failure worsen if they are not controlled, so make sure you're taking all of your medications faithfully. If side effects are making it difficult to take your prescriptions, talk to your doctor.

On your own, you should be weighing yourself daily and checking for signs of swelling called edema -- a sudden weight gain could be a sign of fluid retention. And if you still smoke, you need to quit. You should also limit the amount of exposure that you get even to second-hand smoke.

Reducing stress and anxiety is important, although your condition can certainly provoke such feelings. Depression is a risk for people with heart failure. "A lot of people with heart failure become depressed," says Bennett, "anywhere from 20%-60%." She also notes that, in some groups, depression can worsen the prognosis. However, she thinks doctors generally are aware of the problem and looking out for it.

Bennett also stresses that health professionals need to make certain that older people with heart disease get the support they need at home. "People tend to isolate themselves when they're sick, and we need to be looking at family and support systems for people with heart failure," says Bennett. "We need to see whether older people are able to carry groceries in the house, or whether they can prepare fresh fruits and vegetables or open cans and jars. These things make a difference."

Preventing Worsening of Heart Failure

Lifestyle changes can even help prevent or slow the progression of heart failure.

The healthcare system should be doing much more to prevent people from reaching the late stages of the disease, according to Jay N. Cohn, MD, a professor in the cardiovascular division of the department of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

"I think that the rise in heart failure can be slowed significantly by early detection and aggressive medical treatment," Cohn tells WebMD. "But the problem is that these patients don't get into the hands of specialists until they become sick, and by then it's too late for aggressive preventative intervention. People who have late-stage heart failure represent a failure of our medical system."

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