Heart Failure Treatment

Lifestyle Changes

Making healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle can help your symptoms of heart failure. This can also improve your quality of life and help you feel better.

  • Extra weight makes your heart work harder to pump blood through your body.
  • Your health care team can help you see if you need to lose weight, how much you need to lose, and how to lose it safely.
  • Even losing a few pounds can help your health.
  • It's important to know what you weigh and to check your weight often. Sudden weight changes or weight gain for many days in a row (for example, 2 to 3 pounds in one day or 5 pounds in one week) can be signs that heart failure is getting worse. It may be the first sign of fluid buildup.

When you have heart failure, what and how you eat affects your heart health. Eating a heart-healthy diet can help you feel better. It can also help you to manage your symptoms.

Limit sodium (salt): In your body, salt retains water, which can cause your heart to work harder. It also can cause swelling in your body (edema) and shortness of breath. Don't use more than 2,000 milligrams (mg) per day. Your doctor can tell you how much salt is safe for you.

  • Be careful of "hidden" salt. Many packaged and prepared foods have added salt in them. Read the labels to be sure of how much salt, or "sodium," you're getting with each serving.
  • Ask for little to no added salt when dining out. It's also a good idea to ask that dishes be baked or steamed, not fried. Some restaurants now list the nutritional information of their dishes, as well. Try using other seasonings like lemon juice, garlic, herbs, and spices instead of salt.
If the label says… One Serving Has…
Sodium-free, salt-free, or no sodium Less than 5 mg of sodium and no salt in the ingredients
Very low sodium 35 mg or less of sodium
No added salt or unsalted No salt added to the product during processing (Note: this is NOT a sodium-free product)
Low Sodium 140 mg or less of sodium
Reduced or less sodium At least 25 percent less sodium than in the regular product
Light in sodium 50 percent less sodium than in the regular product

Fluid restriction: People who have more severe heart failure may have to limit their fluid intake. Your doctor will let you know what level of fluid is best for you.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine: If you have heart failure, you should talk with your health care professional about drinking alcohol. It might be best that you drink less alcohol, or not drink it at all. Your health care professional may suggest you drink fewer drinks that have caffeine such as coffee, black tea, and caffeinated soda.

Exercise is great for you, even when you have a health condition. It helps you manage your weight, reduce stress, and lowers your risks for serious health conditions. It's also great for your heart!

  • In general, it is best to get at least 30 minutes per day most days of the week—but being active every day is even better for you.
  • Work with your doctor to come up with an exercise plan that's right for you. For people with heart failure, exercise is very important because it helps you manage your condition and feel better. However, your doctor may suggest that you don't exercise on days when you've gained weight from fluid buildup or don't feel well.

The great thing about exercise is that you don't have to be an athlete to enjoy the benefits of it. In fact, you don't even have to get 30 minutes all at once — you can break it down into 10-minute sessions throughout your day. Here are some other ways to get exercise into your day:

  • Go out for a walk—take the dog along for fun, and ask your friends or family members to join you.
  • Get off the bus or subway a stop or two earlier than you usually do and walk the rest of the way.
  • Park your car farther from the store or your house and enjoy a good walk there.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Smoking can cause damage to your heart. Quitting smoking can help your heart failure symptoms improve. Smoking is a tough habit to quit, but the good news is that there is more help than ever before to help you do just that.

  • Medicines and other treatments: If you smoke now, talk with your doctor about support groups and treatments, like medicines, that can help you quit. Nicotine replacements are medicines that have nicotine. They help you manage headaches and other side effects from quitting. Nicotine replacement medicines come in several forms, including:
    • Gum
    • Patches
    • Inhalers
    • Prescription Pills
  • Nicotine-free medications called bupropion and varenicline are also available. They must be prescribed by your health care professional.
  • Support: Get support. Tell your family and friends that you are quitting, and what day you're quitting. Ask for their help and encouragement. You can also call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free information, advice, support and referrals to quit-smoking resources in your local area. Or, visit BeTobaccoFree.gov.
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