What can you do to manage your heart failure symptoms?

Winter can be a particularly worrying time if you are living with heart failure. The following information will help you to stay well this Winter by managing your symptoms.

Accessing support and information

There are many charities providing guidance and support for managing heart failure.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) website contains dedicated pages on heart failure and provides a useful booklet on Living with Heart Failure.

They also run a confidential helpline:

Heart Failure Matters provide practical information for patients, families and care givers.

The Pumping Marvellous Foundation provides resources for people living with heart failure and a Facebook Support Community.

Cardiomyopathy UK provides advice and information on living well with cardiomyopathy.

They also run a helpline staffed by nurses:

  • 0800 018 1024

Monitoring and self-management of your signs and symptoms

Monitoring your weight: weigh yourself every morning. If your weight goes up you could be retaining fluid. Either tell your doctor or nurse or self-manage (if you have been advised to) if your weight goes up by 2 – 4 pounds (about 1 kilo) in 2 days as you may need a change to your treatment.

Worsening of symptoms: if you notice increased breathlessness, increased ankle swelling, or notice a sudden weight gain, if your doctor or nurse has advised you then self-manage your diuretics for 3 days as per the self-management advice leaflet in this leaflet, or telephone your doctor or nurse as you may need a change to your treatment.

Activity: try to be as active as your condition allows. Walking is good and can be built into your daily regime. If you get breathless during exercise, you should slow down or stop.

Rest: if you have oedema (swelling) in your legs it will help when resting to elevate your legs on a footstool.

Rest at night: if your breathing feels more difficult when lying flat in bed, try increasing the number of pillows you use. Try one or two more pillows to raise your head and shoulders. If you have four or five pillows you can position them in the bed so they form an armchair – being in a sitting position can help you breathe easier.

Breathing exercise: if you feel short of breath, anxious or frightened, repeat this simple breathing exercise to feel calmer. Practice this whenever you want: imagine smelling a flower – breathing in in through your nose; then blowing out a candle – blowing out through your mouth.

Fluids: it is important to find a balance – think of yourself as a spirit level! The diuretics are removing the excess fluid from your body but you also need to drink so you don’t feel really dry in the mouth. If you feel dizzy or light-headed when you go from sitting to standing up, try sitting down and drink a glass of water before standing up again.

Diet: it is important to reduce the amount of salt in your diet as it can make you retain water. Also avoid using LoSalt as this contains high levels of potassium. Do not add salt at the table and avoid cooking with it. Avoid salty foods such as Marmite, Bovril and crisps. Convenience foods are also particularly high in salt.

Reduced appetite: if you have a poor appetite, try eating as much or as little of whatever you want. Try to have small frequent meals and snacks. If you are missing salt, try adding pepper or herbs to give food more flavour.

Home blood pressure monitoring

BP@Home

People living with heart failure often also experience high or low blood pressure. The British Heart Foundation provide help and support through their Managing your blood pressure at home hub.

This includes advice on Monitoring your blood pressure and pulse. If you don’t already have one, purchase a home blood pressure monitor (HBPM). Take regular readings and use this printable diary or this online diary to keep a record of your blood pressure and pulse rate – noting if your pulse feels regular or irregular – so you can share this with your doctor or nurse at your next review.