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Heart Failure: What You Need to Know

Heart Failure: What You Need to Know

By Heart Failure Nurse Saida Jennell Steiner, RN, BSN

Heart failure. It sounds intimidating — even scary.

But “heart failure” doesn’t mean the heart has stopped functioning. It means the heart isn’t pumping as efficiently as a healthy heart; it’s not as strong, so it moves less blood from the heart to the body.

And just like other kinds of mechanical pumps, an inefficient heart requires maintenance to keep it performing.

Tips for Managing Heart Failure

When it comes to treating heart failure, self-management of the disease is key. It’s the biggest component of a care plan and the most telling indicator of outcome success. 

Follow the below tips to optimize any heart-failure self-management plan.

Know the symptoms.

For those living with heart failure, it’s imperative to know the symptoms so you can track them and report them to your doctor. Call your doctor right away if you:

  • Become short of breath with regular daily activity.
  • Feel more tired and weak than normal.
  • Have abdominal pain, tenderness or bloating.
  • Have nausea and loss of appetite.
  • Have dry, hacking cough.
  • Experience new or worsened swelling.
  • Gain weight suddenly.

Your doctor can address these symptoms and possibly prevent you from going into the hospital. 

Who’s at Risk for Heart Failure?

You’re more likely to develop heart failure, if you have any of these risk factors:
* Obesity
* Unhealthy lifestyle habits: Sedentary lifestyle / not enough exercise; excessive alcohol consumption; smoking tobacco; eat a diet high in sodium or fat/cholesterol
* Other cardiovascular conditions: High blood pressure / hypertension; coronary artery disease (CAD); history of heart attack
* Other medical conditions, like Diabetes

Monitor your bodyweight and blood pressure daily, and log the results.

If you notice that you’ve gained 2 pounds overnight or 5 pounds over a week, call your doctor. Weight increase suggests fluid retention, which can be a red flag for patients with heart failure.

Take your medications as prescribed.

Heart failure medications help keep your symptoms under control — but only if you take them and take them correctly.


Exercise is good medicine. Talk to your doctor about which type is best — and safe — for you. Then make it a regular part of your life. For exercise to impact your wellness, you need to stick to a regular routine.

Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation is a great way for some patients with heart failure to get exercise safely and with expert guidance. Ask your doctor if you qualify. Click here for more information. 

Limit your fluids, and stay hydrated.

Hydration is critical for overall health and wellness for everyone, but those with heart failure should limit their daily fluid intake to about 50 ounces (unless advised otherwise by a doctor). Fluids are not limited to just water, but include juice, milk, soft drinks, coffee/tea, soups, alcoholic beverages, event ice cream, frozen yogurt, popsicles and even foods like watermelon that have high water content. 

Limit the salt in your diet to prevent fluid build-up.

People with heart failure need to limit their salt/sodium intake to 2,000 mg per day, unless directed otherwise by a doctor. Thankfully, there are plenty of tasty low-sodium foods that can be part of a healthy diet. Try using flavorful seasoning blends like Mrs. Dash or Lawry’s Salt-Free, and avoid salt substitutes with potassium, seasoning salts and processed meats. Click here for our library of healthy recipes, including many designed for heart-healthy diets.

Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol can aggravate heart failure. In general, physicians may advise heart-failure patients that men can have up to 2 alcoholic drinks per day and women 1 drink per day, but it’s important to confirm with a doctor whether it’s safe to have any alcohol.

Reduce stress.

Chronic stress can take a toll on your health — and your heart. The American Heart Association suggests de-stressing through activities like mediation, spending time in the sunshine, starting a bucket list and moving around. Do whatever helps you relax.

Stay on track with routine preventative measures.

If you have heart disease, it's important to take steps to protect yourself against illness; complications from viruses like and COVID-19 are more likely in people with heart disease and are more likely to be severe.

Keep routine and specialist appointments for check-ups. Get the flu shot each year (along with any other recommended vaccinations for your age). Schedule needed cancer screenings. 

And get vaccinated against COVID-19 when it’s your turn.  

Get support when you need it.

Sarasota Memorial’s heart-failure team welcomes patients and their loved ones to contact our office with any questions or concerns at any time: Call 941-917-8508. You’re also invited to join our online support group on Facebook, where we offer 1-on-1 connections and deliver tips and information on heart-failure related topics. Click here to connect with our Cardiovascular Support Group on Facebook.

Saida Jennell Steiner, RN, BSN, is a Heart Failure Nurse at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. You can learn more about SMH’s Heart Failure program at

Posted: Mar 22, 2021,
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