Lifestyle Changes In Heart Failure

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Once a diagnosis of heart failure is made, treatment should be started as soon as possible.

One of the main treatments that can help individuals with heart failure is changes to the lifestyle. Lifestyle modifications include changes in diet and exercise routines, stopping smoking, managing body weight and regulation of fluid intake. In this article we shall take a closer look at these particular aspects.

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Dietary changes

The Indian diet consists of varying combinations of carbohydrates, proteins and fats along with salt and sugar.

Reduce salt intake

Salt contains sodium which is responsible for poor control of blood pressure. Sodium can hold on to water and can increase the accumulation of fluid in the body. This fluid collects either in the legs or in the lungs causing breathlessness. In advanced cases of heart failure, the entire body may swell up due to accumulation of fluid.

Currently, the Indian diet contains around 12 g of sodium in total which is nearly twice the recommended daily intake. In individuals with heart failure, the daily intake should not exceed more than 2 g of sodium. This is equivalent to approximately 4 g of salt.

Giving the salt intake low can keep the blood pressure under control and fluid accumulation at bay.

Reduce intake of fats

Fats are responsible for an increase in body weight and the development of atherosclerosis. Saturated fats and trans fats are particularly important in the development of thickening of the heart arteries.

A high body weight or obesity can increase the strain on the heart making it a weaker in individuals with heart failure. It is therefore important that the amount of fat that is consumed is reduced as much as possible.

This can be easily achieved by cutting out sweets and fried foods from the diet and avoiding junk foods such as crisps, namkeens, chocolates, burgers, pizzas and french fries.

Reduce intake of alcohol

If you enjoy alcohol, then make sure you do so in moderation. High intake of alcohol can weaken the heart further, and lead to a condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy. We recommend that you completely stop drinking alcohol completely.

Read more about how alcohol affects your heart here.

Reduce or avoid caffeine

High intake of caffeine is associated with coronary artery disease, though the association is still debated in the medical world. However, small to moderate amounts (1 to 2 cups of coffee a day) do not seem to have any bad effects.

Exercise

In the past, exercise was discouraged for patients who suffer from heart failure. Fortunately, this is no longer the case as exercise has been shown from clinical studies to improve the function of the heart and maintain a healthy blood pressure.

If you have been recently diagnosed with heart failure, then enrolling in a cardiac rehabilitation program might help. These are structured based on your individual requirements, and can help you recover faster and in a safe manner. Speak to your doctor for more information.

Stop smoking

Smoking any form of tobacco (cigarettes, beedis or a pipe) can all increase heart rate and blood pressure. If you have heart failure, this can put the heart under a great deal of stress and can make it weaker.

Stopping smoking can lead to improvement in symptoms of heart failure.

Learn more on the effects of smoking and 10 tips to stop smoking.

Watch your fluid intake

If you have heart failure, your doctor will ask you to restrict your fluid intake to 1 – 1.5 liters per day. This includes water along with juices, buttermilk, milk, rasam etc. all put together. You will be asked to take water pills (diuretics) in order to get rid of the excess fluid in the body.

If you continue to drink large amounts of fluid every day, then the water collection in the body can increase which can worsen heart failure.

Sleep well

Making sure you get adequate rest is very important. If you over-exert yourself, then chances are the heart muscle will get weaker and you will feel more unwell.

Individuals with heart failure are recommended to sleep in a propped up position at 45 degrees. This can be done using simple back supports or by placing a few bricks under the legs at the head end of the bed.

If you are a working person, make sure you get some rest every 2 hours to allow your heart to relax.

Additional tips

In addition to the above, make sure you follow the steps below on advice from your doctor –

  1. Manage your stress levels – This can be achieved through yoga and relaxation therapies. Read more on how stress can affect your heart.
  2. Take the flu and pneumonia vaccine – The simple flu and pneumonia can have a significant negative impact on the health of patients with heart failure.

Speak to your doctor about getting the flu vaccine (annual) and one-time pneumonia vaccine. With the rise of swine flu in India, it is worthwhile getting the swine flu vaccine as well before the winter months set in. All these vaccines are relatively safe, but make sure your doctor approves it first.

  1. Have a support network – If you suffer from heart failure, it is easy to feel alone and frustrated. Talk to your family members and friends and make sure you have their support. If possible, become a part of support groups (either online or offline) so that you can talk to like-minded individuals going through similar problems.
  2. Wear comfortable clothing – Wearing tight clothing can restrict the flow of blood throughout the body, which can be problematic. Wear clothes that are comfortable and not too tight.

Finally…..

It is a good idea to keep record of the symptoms you experience. Make sure you visit your doctor if you begin to experience any of the following symptoms –

  • Increasing breathing difficulty at rest or on minimal exertion
  • Chest pain
  • Palpitations or thumping of the heart in the chest
  • Increasing leg swelling

If you wish to learn more about heart failure, click here.

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