Once the heart has been damaged or disease, or in some cases, malformed from early age, its ability to function may be diminished, leading to heart failure. 30,000 Australians are diagnosed with heart failure each year – managing heart failure is important as it can have a significant impact on one’s quality of life. Symptoms of heart failure include fatigue, palpitations, oedema in ankles and feet, swelling of the abdomen, coughing and wheezing, chest pain, dizziness and nausea.
Management tips include:
- Exercise for 10 to 30 minutes per day – if there has been a recent heart attack, attend a rehabilitation program and be supervised when exercising initially. Aerobic exercise improves quality of life in people with heart failure
- Minimise toxins or stresses to the heart, including smoking (constricts blood vessels), sodium (causes fluid overload), saturated fat (increases cardiovascular disease risk), alcohol (toxic to heart muscle), caffeine (causes palpitations) and at the same time, increase fibre in your diet to reduce straining of stools (which can precipitate palpitations or chest pain)
- Maintain accurate fluid balance by measuring your weight daily, and see your GP immediately if there is more than a 2kg weight gain on any given day
- Reduce the load on your heart by reducing weight
- Ensure vaccination against influenza and pneumonia
- Manage stress and depression given the significant overlap between mental health and heart disease
- See your GP or cardiologist for medications, such as ACE-inhibitors (improve symptoms, delays heart failure progression, reduces death), beta-blockers (preserves heart function after a heart attack and controls blood pressure) and statins (controls cholesterol and reduces risk of further heart attacks)
- If severe, your cardiologist may recommend CPAP machines (improves filling and emptying of the heart chamber) and electrical devices (biventricular pacing and implantable defibrillators that reduce symptoms, reduce hospital admissions and reduce mortality)
- Get a symptom action plan each year that outlines the steps if any acute symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, fluid or weight gain, swelling and dizziness
Whilst heart failure can’t be reversed, proactive management helps delay progression and improves longevity.