5 Steps to Living Better with a Congestive Heart Failure Diagnosis

Finding out you or a loved one has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF) can be overwhelming. While there is no cure for CHF, there is a lot that you can do to control it and continue to live a full and happy life. An estimated 6 million Americans live with CHF and many of them are unaware of the simple changes they can make to help improve their symptoms and feel better. Symptoms such as shortness of breath, fluid buildup, and fatigue may all improve with making these simple habits part of your daily routine. 

1. Follow a low sodium diet: Too much salt in the diet causes the body to hold on to excess water. This leads to the heart having to work harder to pump all of that extra fluid around. Limiting the amount of salt you eat helps control the buildup of fluids around your heart, stomach, lungs, and legs which can improve breathing, mobility, and energy levels. The American Heart Association recommends limiting to 1500 mg of sodium per day if you have CHF. Limiting canned, pickled, and processed foods and cutting back on fast food and restaurant meals is recommended to reduce the amount of salt in your diet. Ditching the salt shaker is also recommended. One teaspoon of salt contains 2300 mg of sodium! Choose fresh foods as much as possible and get in the habit of reading food labels. 

2. Step on the scale daily: Weighing yourself every day can help catch edema (excess fluid building up in the body) before it becomes a more serious issue. Get in the routine of hopping on the scale each morning. Most physicians recommend contacting them if you gain 3 pounds in 1 day or 5 pounds in 2 days so they can make the proper adjustments to your CHF treatment plan. The key to daily weigh-ins is to do it at the same time and in the same way so you can get an accurate picture of where you are at. Logging it in a notebook can be helpful as well. 

3. Take your medications: There are many different medications that may be prescribed to help manage your CHF. It is extremely important to take them exactly as prescribed. If you are struggling to understand how to take your medications or are having difficulty in affording them, make sure you talk with your healthcare team so they can help you. Taking your medications will help you feel more energetic, breathe easier, stay out of the hospital, and may help you live longer. 

4. Keep moving: While CHF may alter your tolerance to exercise, increasing the need for frequent breaks and slowing down the pace of your activity, exercise does not need to be avoided. Of course, talking with your healthcare provider about what type and amount of exercise is right for you is a wise decision. Research shows that exercise can improve quality of life and decrease symptoms related to CHF. 

5. Drink the right amount of fluids: It is often recommended to limit the amount of fluid you drink to help better manage CHF. Drinking too much fluid can increase symptoms of shortness of breath, poor appetite, and weight gain from swelling. When your body is struggling to get rid of fluids, your doctor may put you on a fluid restriction plan requiring you to count the amount of fluids you drink and receive through items such as soup, watermelon, and ice cream.

While a congestive heart failure diagnosis can be concerning, just remember that it can also be managed! Taking the simple steps listed above can help you take control of your CHF. At Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating we are committed to making CHF management easier. Our 1200 calorie meal plan follows the American Heart Association’s recommendations for CHF, containing an average of 1500 mg of sodium per day and including fresh, wholesome ingredients.

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