Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a very common condition with which millions of North Americans are diagnosed each year. It is the stage at which “heart failure” has led to a build-up of fluid around the heart. This build-up affects the efficiency of the heart muscle to pump blood throughout your body. Early treatment and management of congestive heart failure can have very positive effects on this condition, slowing its progression and possibly reversing it.
There are different reasons why the heart muscle weakens, including a heart attack, heart valve disease or long-term high blood pressure. Symptoms of congestive heart failure include:
If your healthcare provider suspects you may have congestive heart failure, he or she will perform a physical exam and tests such as echocardiogram, electrocardiogram, blood tests and stress tests. Depending on the results, you may need further testing such as a coronary angiogram.
The earlier congestive heart failure is diagnosed, the better the outcome. There are a number of medications that work to improve the heart’s pumping function and decrease heart failure symptoms, including:
A pacemaker may be an option to improve heart function, while an implantable defibrillator can correct abnormal heart rhythms.
Lifestyle changes will also determine how successful your chronic heart failure treatment will be. It’s important to talk to your healthcare team to ensure your nutrition and exercise program are right for you and if other monitoring, such as daily weigh-ins, would be beneficial.
Regular follow-ups with your dietitian will help ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need and avoid hidden salt sources which could be impacting your condition.
A well-balanced diet allows the body to receive all the nutrients it needs to thrive and effectively manage chronic conditions. The diet should include a colourful variety of vegetables and fruit, lean proteins and healthy fats. It is also very important to limit sugar and avoid processed foods.
Limiting dietary salt is a crucial component of managing congestive heart failure as it directly affects how much water your body retains. Fluid retention is one of the biggest issues heart failure patients face. In terms of salt intake, you should aim to eat less than 2,000 milligrams of sodium daily. On average the North American diet includes between 4000-5000 milligrams each day!
An effective dietary strategy to reduce sodium intake is by following the DASH diet. The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet encourages whole grains, lots of vegetables and fruit, nuts/seeds and legumes, lean meats and fish.
Here is an example meal plan:
To learn more about the DASH diet click here.
In terms of nutrition and weight management, If you’re overweight or obese, and this weight is not caused by fluid retention, you’ll also need to address weight management with your healthcare team.
Many patients will benefit from a cardiac rehabilitation program, and regular exercise is essential for all patients. Exercise is an important lifestyle factor that can help manage chronic heart failure. Ideally, an exercise prescription would include 10 -15 minutes of warm-up activities plus 20-30 minutes of aerobic and resistance exercise followed by a cool-down period of at least 5 minutes. This exercise prescription should be repeated 3-5 times a week.
Another effective tool for managing water retention is daily weight monitoring. Just as a diabetic would do daily blood glucose checks to manage their blood sugars, a person with heart failure should be doing daily weight checks to monitor for fluid retention. Weigh yourself before breakfast and consult with your healthcare provider if you gain five pounds in a week or four pounds in two or three days.
With early diagnosis the patient and healthcare team can work together to manage congestive heart failure, allowing individuals to live a long, healthy and active life.
Talk to your cardiologist if you’d like more information on congestive heart failure.
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Adhering to your medications, prescribed exercises or lifestyle changes (such as dietary changes, smoking cessation, reduced alcohol consumption, etc.) is essential to improving health outcomes successfully. Compliance with any prescribed treatment is the number one thing you can do to ensure positive changes and optimal treatment outcomes.