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Living with heart failure

Once diagnosed with heart failure there are many aspects of your life that will need to be managed to help keep you healthy. The information below provides some useful tips and contact details.

Being diagnosed with heart failure can be overwhelming, and although your outlook is related to your age, how severe your condition is and your overall health, it also depends on what you do to reduce your risk.

Self-care is an integral part of daily life with recovery. It means that you take responsibility for your own health and wellbeing with support from the people involved in your care.

It includes the things you do each day to stay fit, maintain good physical and mental health, prevent illness or accidents, and effectively deal with minor ailments and long-term conditions.

It is very important that you take any medication as prescribed, even if you start to feel better. Continuous medication can help prevent your symptoms getting worse. Speak to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about the medication you are taking or any side effects.

It is also important to:

  • monitor and manage your fluid balance so you know if fluid is building up in your body
  • restrict your salt intake
  • stop smoking
  • limit your alcohol intake.

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 Heart Foundation's health information service on 1300 36 27 87 or for patient support contact Heart Support Australia.

Relationships

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.

Travelling

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 records.

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:

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: September 2016

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