How to Avoid Triggers of Sudden Heart Failure

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 08, 2021

Heart failure, which means your ticker can't pump as well as it should, can sometimes quickly get worse. In that case, it's called acute or sudden heart failure.

To prevent it from happening to you, watch for the warning signs that your heart failure is getting worse. See your doctor if you:

  • Feel more tired than usual
  • Can't catch your breath
  • Cough or wheeze a lot
  • Suddenly gain weight or your legs and feet get swollen, which means you're holding on to extra fluid
  • Feel dizzy or light-headed
  • Have more trouble exercising than usual
  • Can't eat
  • Feel confused
  • Notice your heart beats very fast


Lifestyle changes and medicine can help you manage heart failure and prevent your symptoms from getting worse. Keep up with a healthy routine, including things like:

  • Eat lots of fruits, veggies, and lean protein
  • Limit salt, sugar, and saturated fat
  • Drop pounds if you're overweight
  • Get regular exercise
  • Take the medicines you've been prescribed to lower your blood pressure and cut the workload on your heart

Don't stop your medicine or change the dose unless you get the OK from your doctor.

When it's too high, your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body. This extra strain may weaken your heart even more.

Your goal is a healthy blood pressure of 120 over 80. Bring down your numbers with diet, exercise, weight loss, and blood pressure medicines if you need them.

If you have it, you could have higher odds of heart failure. The high blood sugar levels that are a symptom of the disease damage your blood vessels and heart muscle.

To avoid heart problems, eat a heart-healthy diet, get more active, and take medicine to lower your blood sugar if your doctor tells you to.

Many conditions that damage the heart can lead to heart failure or make it worse. So work closely with your doctor to manage problems like:

  • Abnormal heart valves
  • Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
  • Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis)
  • Heart defects
  • Abnormal heart rhythm such as atrial fibrillation


Drugs you take for other conditions can sometimes harm your heart. For instance, some medicines make your body hold on to more salt, which raises blood pressure. Others damage your heart muscle, or interact with drugs you take to control your heart failure.

Drugs that can be a problem if you have heart failure include some, but not all treatments for:

  • Asthma  
  • Cancer 
  • Colds and allergies
  • Depression
  • Diabetes 
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Heart arrhythmia 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Migraine headaches medicines 
  • Pain
  • Seizures

Some herbal supplements can worsen heart failure, too. These include:

  • Black cohosh
  • Danshen
  • Ginseng
  • Green tea
  • Hawthorn
  • St. John's wort

Go over all the medicines you take with the doctor who treats your heart failure. Let them know before you start on any new drug.

Although a glass of red wine might protect your heart, once you have heart failure, it could make your symptoms worse. Alcohol raises your heart rate and blood pressure. This puts added strain on your heart.

In general, you don't want to drink more than 1 or 2 glasses of alcohol every day. If you already have heart failure, check with your doctor to see if it's safe for you to drink at all.

If you smoke, quit. The chemicals in tobacco smoke damage your heart and blood vessels. Smoking makes more plaque build up in your arteries, which limits blood flow and makes your heart work harder.

Even the occasional cigarette is dangerous to your heart. Ask your doctor about how to quit. And stay away from anyone else who smokes. Secondhand smoke is unhealthy for your heart and blood vessels, too.

Show Sources


American Heart Association: "Causes of Heart Failure," "Prevention and Treatment of High Blood Pressure," "Warning Signs of Heart Failure," "What is Heart Failure?"

Heart Failure Matters: "Adjusting Your Diet: Alcohol," "What are the Different Types of Heart Failure?"

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "How Does Smoking Affect the Heart and Blood Vessels?" "How is Heart Failure Treated?"

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke."

News release, American Heart Association, 2016.

Page, R.L. Circulation, August 2016.

Ponikowski, P. European Heart Journal, May 2016.

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