If you’re living with heart failure or helping to care for someone who is, you know that there’s a lot to keep track of. Symptoms, vital signs, medical appointments, medications, weight, exercise -- the list can feel overwhelming. At the same time, you’re trying to learn more about the disease so you can take better care of yourself or your loved one. Apps on your phone or tablet can make it easier to balance everything you need to manage the condition.
“Mobile apps can be very useful for people with heart failure to promote self-care, reminding you and making it easier for you to do the things we know are helpful, like monitoring the sodium in your diet and understanding what a healthy diet is, keeping track of your weight, categorizing your medications, and recognizing symptoms,” says Michael Dorsch, PharmD, an assistant professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of Michigan who studies how health information technology can lead to better outcomes for people with heart disease.
Kinds of Apps
Lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, and reducing stress can also help. It’s especially important to monitor your weight, how much fluid you’re drinking, and how much sodium you’re eating because people with heart failure often have a buildup of fluid in their bodies that can cause shortness of breath and put even more stress on the heart.
There’s more than one category of apps to help people with heart failure, says Adam DeVore, MD, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Duke University who has led clinical trials of apps for the condition.
“The first group focuses on general wellness: cardiovascular health, fitness, and general mental health,” he says. “When you’re thinking about apps that can help you care for yourself as a person with heart failure, don’t neglect these.
“The second group are more heart failure-specific, focusing on things like sodium intake, medication tracking, and vitals.”
In addition, he says, researchers are studying heart failure apps that work along with monitoring devices that you wear or have implanted.
“There’s been a lot of success with apps like these for people with diabetes, helping them monitor their insulin levels and manage their doses of insulin,” DeVore says. “Hopefully, that will soon be available for heart failure, but it’s still in the research stage for now.”
General Health Apps
There are so many general health apps available that it can be hard to narrow it down, says Larry Allen, MD, professor of medicine and medical director of the advanced heart failure program at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. But he says to look for some specific functions to help you manage heart failure:
- Weight tracking, which can be a measure of whether salt and fluid are building up in your body.
- Blood pressure and heart rate tracking, either importing the information directly from a home blood pressure cuff or entering it by hand.
- Symptom tracking. Apps that allow you to note symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling -- the three most common heart failure symptoms -- are helpful.
- Sodium content guide and tracking. Some apps estimate the sodium amounts in the foods that you report eating so you can monitor your intake, Allen says.
- Water intake tracking, to make sure you don’t accumulate too much fluid in your body, making it harder for your heart to pump.
Heart Failure-Specific Apps
- Heart Failure Storylines. This app was originally developed in partnership with the Heart Failure Society of America. It offers ways to track symptoms, vital signs, medications, appointments, and how much water you’re drinking. It lets you chart your daily moods and keep a journal to boost your mental health. You can also create a “circle of support”: doctors, family members, friends, and others who can get information that you approve from the app. (Available for iOS and Android devices.)
- Heart Failure Manager/Point of Care. This app has similar tracking and journaling options. It also integrates with the Health app in your phone, so if you have an Apple watch or other device that tracks your heart rate, you can easily send that information to your doctor through the app. (iOS devices only.)
- HF Star, from WellDoc, offers prompts to help you manage heart failure -- like a weekly challenge to record symptoms, blood pressure, and meals -- along with symptom and medication tracking and feedback on blood pressure and weight. It syncs with trackers like Fitbit and Apple Health, as well as with your pharmacy and smart scales. To use it, though, you’ll need a program referral from your health plan or employer. (iOS only.)
- HF Log is more basic. It integrates with the Apple Health app to track your weight, symptoms, physical activity, and heart failure “zone” (red, yellow, or green, depending on signs like weight gain, cough, swelling, and chest pain). It also lets you set a personal action plan and share it with your care team. (iOS only.)
HF Log has a one-time $3.99 fee after a 10-day trial. The other three apps are free.
In addition to these publicly available options, your hospital, health system, or cardiology practice may have its own app that connects directly to your electronic medical record or to wearable technologies. Ask your doctor for more information or about which apps they may recommend.
Another heart failure-specific app, the American Heart Association’s HF Path, was discontinued in October 2020. That is part of the challenge, Dorsch says: Apps come and go. “There was a review of heart failure apps published in the journal JMIR Cardio in 2018, and at least half of those apps aren’t available anymore.”
Allen says that it can be very helpful to use an app to help manage your heart failure for even a short period of time.
“People don’t necessarily stick with health behavior apps like these for the long term, and in this case, I think that’s OK,” he says. “If you download a health app and keep up with it for just a week or so, you actually learn quite a bit. So even if you can’t stick with it for months or years, it can be useful to try apps like these to help you get a handle on managing your disease, symptoms, and medications.”