Being diagnosed with heart failure can be overwhelming. Your outlook is related to your age, how severe your condition is and your overall health. But it also depends on what you do to reduce your risk.
If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, there are three important things you can do:
- follow your doctor's instructions and always take your medicines exactly the way they tell you to
- monitor and control the fluids in your body. You'll have to weigh yourself daily, control how much fluid you drink, limit salt, and may have to take medicines to control fluid
- change your lifestyle
Looking after yourself
Every day, you will need to weigh yourself and keep track of your weight, cut back on salt, take your medicines and do some physical activity. Talk to your doctor about managing other conditions you have, and make sure you are vaccinated as you’re more likely to develop complications if you catch the flu or other respiratory infections.
Call a doctor if:
- you gain or lose more than 2 kilograms over 2 days
- your shortness of breath gets worse
- your heart is beating very quickly
- you get very dizzy or faint
- your angina is getting worse
- your ankles, legs or tummy are more swollen than usual
- you are coughing a lot
- you feel more tired or emotional than usual
Changing your lifestyle
Looking after yourself is an integral part of living with heart failure. It means that you take responsibility for your own health and wellbeing with support from the people involved in your care. Every day, you will need to do things to stay fit, maintain good physical and mental health, prevent illness or accidents, and effectively deal with minor ailments and long-term conditions.
Programs and support groups
You may be able to attend a special program to help you manage heart failure. These programs usually involve a number of health professionals, such as nurses, dietitians and exercise specialists.
If you have or have had a heart condition or if you are caring for someone with a heart condition, you might find it useful to meet other people in your area who are in a similar situation. There are a number of heart support groups around Australia that organise regular exercise sessions, such as walking groups, as well as other social activities.
Your doctor, specialist, local public hospital or the Heart Foundation may be able to provide you with details about your nearest group. For more information, call the Heart Foundation Helpline on 13 11 12 or for patient support contact Heart Support Australia.
Coming to terms with a long-term condition such as heart failure can put a strain on you, your family and your friends. It can be difficult to talk with people about your condition, even if they are close to you. Be open about how you feel and let your family and friends know what they can do to help. But do not feel shy about telling them that you need some time to yourself.
Sex may be worrying for you if your symptoms worsen. If you are concerned you should discuss your situation with your partner and your doctor.
Being diagnosed with heart failure should not prevent you from travelling or going on holiday, as long as you feel well enough and your condition is well controlled. If you have heart failure, check with your doctor before you travel.
Anyone travelling and sitting still for a long time either in a car, coach or on a plane, should do simple exercises to reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). When flying, you should wear flight socks or compression stockings to keep blood flowing through the legs and reduce the risk of DVT.
Also, be aware that your legs and ankles may swell when flying and if you have severe heart failure, breathing may become more difficult.
It may be a good idea to take two sets of medicines with you when you travel. Carry them in different places in case you lose one, and make a list of the medicines you take, and what it is for. Ensure you have your doctor update your electronic health record.
Work and financial help
If you are well enough, it is important to keep working for as long as you feel able. Staying at work with the right support can make you feel better and give you financial security.
Talk to your employer as soon as you feel that your heart failure is affecting your ability to do your job, so you can find a solution that suits both of you. For example, would it be possible for you to work part-time?
Employers should try to make reasonable adjustments to working practices or premises to help the person with the disability. This might (where possible) include:
- changing or modifying tasks
- altering work patterns
- installing special equipment
- allowing time off to attend appointments
- help with travel to work
If you cannot continue working because of your heart failure, you may be able to claim disability and incapacity benefits. You can get further advice and information from your doctor and Centrelink.
Aspects to think about include:
- planning for financial decisions
- making a will
- enduring power of attorney
- guardianship and administration
- decisions about medical treatment including:
- do you want to be resuscitated?
- end of life care
- organ donation
Make sure you have ambulance cover as you’re likely to need it if you have heart failure.
You can access more information about living with heart failure in a booklet called Living Well With Chronic Heart Failure, from the Heart Foundation.
Last reviewed: July 2018