The best day-to-day advice for coping with heart failure
Heart Failure People diagnosed with heart failure can follow some simple guidelines for a better life, says Louise Clayton, Heart Failure Advanced Nurse Practitioner.
What is heart failure?
It means the heart pump is weaker than it should be and is failing to meet the demands of the body. There are many reasons it occurs, including coronary heart disease and high blood pressure — and it's common, particularly as we age. It's not curable.
What are the main symptoms?
You may have breathlessness on exertion during what would normally be, for you, routine activity. For example, people who are generally fit may notice that they can't walk around the park as quickly as they used to, or that they get more breathless going up the stairs. At the extreme end, they may get breathless washing or dressing. Fatigue — not simply tiredness — is another common symptom, and they may have swollen ankles and feet.
What are your tips for living well with heart failure?
The quicker you see a specialist, via GP referral, the better! It's also vital to take your medication as prescribed; if it isn't working, or you have side-effects, see your doctor. Taking regular exercise is key. I'm not talking trampolines and treadmills: walking is free! Start small and build up gently, and the best way of doing that is going through a formal rehabilitation programme. Don't smoke; drink alcohol in moderation; eat a healthy diet with lots of fruit, veg and oily fish; and watch your fluid intake. The British Heart Foundation advises no more than two litres a day.
Do you have any advice for family members or carers?
Learn about the condition and talk to a specialist, which can reduce anxiety. Take time out for yourself: it's really important not to get 'carer weary'. Be vigilant of any changes to the person you care for, but make sure they retain their independence as much as possible.