Keeping well (self management)
- Helping yourself to stay well
- Report any changes
- Weigh yourself daily
- Eat less salt
- Fluid restriction
- Vaccinations and avoiding infections
- Look after your skin
- Anxiety and depression
It’s important to do what you can to ease the strain on your heart and keep as healthy as possible. In particular:
- Stop smoking
- Eat a healthy balanced diet
- Control cholesterol
- Moderate your alcohol intake
- Keep as active as possible: some hospitals and heart failure services can offer specialised, individual exercise programmes to do at home or at a class.
- Maintain a sensible body weight: this applies to those who are underweight as well as those who are overweight. Ask your doctor or nurse about this. Sometimes as your heart failure worsens you can lose too much weight and you may need some supplements to your diet.
More information about keeping well is found in the 'Living with your heart condition' section.
In order to stay as well as possible it is important that you report any changes in your symptoms to your nurse or doctor, e.g.
- Increased puffiness / swelling in your ankles or tummy
- Increased weight
- Increased breathlessness
- New palpitations
Sometimes making small changes to what drugs you take, or what dose, can help avoid an acute attack and possible hospital admission.
An increase in weight can be due to fluid retention and be a sign that your heart is not working efficiently enough.
- Weigh yourself every morning, after going to the toilet, and use the same set of scales.
- It is vital to report any changes in weight as soon as possible.
- Tell your doctor and / or nurse of any increase in weight of: 2lbs, or more, for 2 days running or 3 - 4lbs, or more, in a week
Too much salt in the diet encourages fluid retention and may worsen the symptoms of heart failure. Eating less salt can help to ease the strain on your heart.
Depending on your situation, you may be advised to limit the amount of fluid you take in every day. If this is the case then your nurse or doctor will tell you how to do this. Some tips if you feel thirsty include:
- Sucking on ice cubes
- Freezing fruit juice to make a drink last longer
- It is advisable to have the annual flu immunisation and the pneumonia immunisation (only needed once) to give yourself protection against infection.
- Green / yellow spit might indicate a chest infection. Prompt treatment with antibiotics is very important.
- Your skin can become fragile from being stretched, especially over the shins. Keeping your skin lubricated with a cream or oil may help to keep the skin from breaking.
As well as living with the physical aspects of your illness you may also notice that you feel anxious or low.
- Many people with heart failure find that some of their symptoms make them feel anxious and panicky. It can be reassuring to recognise exactly how anxiety affects you and know which physical symptoms are caused by what. Anxiety can effect people in many different ways: physically, emotionally and behaviourally.
- Learning breathing exercises and relaxation techniques can help you to cope. Talking to someone about how you feel can also make things a bit easier.
- It is very common for people with heart failure to develop depression. This may happen when you notice that your quality of life is being affected by your symptoms.
- Feeling down for some of the time is a natural reaction as you learn to accept, and adapt to, what you can and cannot do. However, if you are feeling low for most of the time you could be depressed. Depression can be successfully treated, so it is important to recognise if you are depressed and to let someone know how you are feeling.
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