Fighting Heart Failure: Small Changes, Big Difference

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on April 22, 2020

Diabetes is hard on your heart. The condition causes damage that means the heart must work harder to get blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the rest of the body. Over time, those changes can lead to heart failure.

But you have the power to keep your condition in check and fight heart failure symptoms before they take hold. And you can start with small changes to your everyday routine.

Know your medications.

When you have diabetes and heart failure, you’ll likely be taking many different medications. It’s important to understand how each of them helps your heart.

Some of your medicines help your heart pump better. Others ease the symptoms of heart failure, such as fluid buildup in your body or shortness of breath. And some medications also help keep heart failure from getting worse.

You should:

  • Keep an up-to-date list of all your medicine and the dose you take.
  • Share the list with all your doctors to make sure new medications or supplements don’t affect what you’re already taking.
  • Ask about side effects you should watch for.
  • Ask your doctor if you should change any medications if your symptoms of heart failure get worse.


Check your blood sugar regularly.

Healthy blood sugar is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Over time, too much sugar and insulin resistance can cause inflammation that damages your blood vessels and the nerves and muscle in your heart.

When you test your blood sugar regularly, you’ll notice if it tends to run too high. It’s easier to make changes to your medications to get it back on track before it starts causing bigger problems. Your doctor can let you know how often you should test.

Weigh yourself every morning.

One of the first signs of heart failure is usually sudden weight gain that you can’t explain. So every morning, after you go to the bathroom and before breakfast, step onto the scale. If the number goes up by 2 to 3 pounds in a day, or by more than 5 pounds in a week, let your doctor know. (Be sure to use the same scale each time you weigh yourself.)

Pay attention to how you feel. If you notice feeling out of breath, or swelling in your feet, legs, ankles, or stomach, that’s another reason to alert your doctor.

Add a serving of vegetables.

When you bump up the veggies in your daily diet, you give your heart health a boost, too. Vegetables have nutrients that fight inflammation, which is key for protecting your heart.

Long-term inflammation is linked to many different conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. It can irritate your blood vessels, make your arteries more likely to clog, and trigger blood clots that cause a heart attack.

Vegetables, like tomatoes, beets, kale, and spinach, are full of vitamins and nutrients, called antioxidants, that can protect your heart and blood vessels from the damage of inflammation. You can get these nutrients from other foods, too, like:

  • Fruit, especially berries, cherries, and oranges
  • Herbs like ginger and turmeric
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts
  • Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines
  • Whole grains
  • Beans


Go to bed on time.

A regular sleep schedule -- going to bed and waking up at the same time each day -- is a reliable way to make sure you get the rest that’s critical for a healthy heart. Sleep is time your body needs to heal itself from the wear and tear of the day.

If you have heart failure, a good night’s sleep may be harder to come by. You may have symptoms like having trouble breathing when you lie down or needing to get up to pee. These can make it hard to get restful, uninterrupted shut-eye.

If you do have these kinds of symptoms, make sure you tell your doctor. They could be a sign that your heart failure isn’t under control. Medications for heart failure can also make you need to pee more often. If trips to the bathroom are keeping you from getting restful sleep, ask your doctor if you can adjust the timing of your medicine so you can avoid getting up. Drinking less fluid in the evening can also help.

WebMD Medical Reference



Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Women: How Controlling Blood Sugar Benefits Your Heart.”

National Institutes of Health: “Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke,” “Know Your Blood Sugar Numbers: Use Them to Manage Your Diabetes.”

American Heart Association: “Managing Heart Failure Symptoms.”

CDC: “Heart Failure.”

Harvard Health: “Foods that fight inflammation.”

Mayo Clinic: “How to use food to help your body fight inflammation.”

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