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Heart Failure (cont.)


The best way to prevent heart failure is to have a healthy lifestyle and control existing health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes.

To reduce your risk:

  • Don't smoke. If you smoke, quit. Avoid secondhand smoke too.
  • Lower your cholesterol. If you have high cholesterol, follow your doctor's advice for lowering it. Eating a heart-healthy diet—such as the TLC diet—exercising, and quitting smoking will help keep your cholesterol low.
  • Control your blood pressure. Exercising, limiting alcohol, and controlling stress will help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.
  • Get regular exercise. Exercise will help control your weight, blood pressure, and stress. Controlling these things will help keep your heart healthy. Try to do activities that raise your heart rate. Aim for at least 2½ hours of moderate exercise a week.1
  • Control diabetes. Take your medicines as directed, and work with your doctor to make a diet and exercise plan to control diabetes.
  • Limit alcohol. If you drink alcohol, drink moderately. This means no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.

Living With Heart Failure

You can feel better when you have heart failure by taking your medicines as directed, having a healthy lifestyle, and avoiding things that make heart failure worse. Know what things you can do every day to stay healthy, what symptoms to watch for, and when to call a doctor.

Quick Tips: Self-Care for Heart Failure

Taking medicines

Having a healthy lifestyle

  • Eat healthy foods.
    Heart Failure: Eating a Healthy Diet
  • Limit sodium. Your doctor might recommend that you limit sodium to less than 2,000 mg a day. Limiting sodium can help you feel better and prevent sudden heart failure. Too much sodium makes it harder for your already-weakened heart to pump. Fluid may build up in your lungs—making it harder for you to breathe—and in your feet, ankles, legs, and belly.
    Click here to view an Actionset.Healthy Eating: Eating Less Sodium
    Click here to view an Actionset.Low-Salt Diets: Eating Out
  • Exercise regularly. If you aren't already active, your doctor may want you to start exercising. Do not start exercising until you have talked with your doctor to make an exercise program that is safe for you. You could do it in a cardiac rehabilitation program or on your own.
    Click here to view an Actionset.Heart Failure: Activity and Exercise
  • Check your weight at the same time every day.
    Click here to view an Actionset.Heart Failure: Checking Your Weight
  • Try to lose weight if you are overweight. Eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising regularly will help you lose weight. Even a few pounds can make a difference.
  • Don't smoke. If you smoke, try to quit. Smoking increases your risk for heart disease and makes it harder to exercise. Avoid secondhand smoke too.
  • Limit alcohol. Moderate drinking is no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
  • Limit your fluids if needed.
    Click here to view an Actionset.Heart Failure: Watching Your Fluids
  • Oxygen treatment. Your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy to reduce your shortness of breath and increase your ability to exercise.

Avoiding things that make heart failure worse

Avoid triggers, such as too much salt (sodium) and certain medicines, that can cause sudden heart failure.

Click here to view an Actionset.Heart Failure: Avoiding Triggers for Sudden Heart Failure

Treating your sleep problems

A man

One Man's Story:

Pete, 70

"I was having a lot of trouble getting enough sleep. I was snoring so bad that my wife was sleeping in another room. I'd wake up 7 times a night. Sometimes I'd wake up gasping for breath. The next day I'd be so tired that I'd fall asleep while doing my woodworking in the garage. And I was really fuzzy-headed. I couldn't remember anything.

"I thought it might be my heart failure. So I decided to talk to my doctor about it, and he suggested a sleep study. I found out that I have sleep apnea. I haven't been getting enough oxygen because of it. He put me on a CPAP machine at night. I've used it for the past 4 months.

"It took a little time to get used to sleeping with a mask. But I'm sleeping much better. Now if I wake up, it's only once, and I go right back to sleep. I feel so much better during the day."—Pete

This story is based on information gathered from many people living with heart failure.

Many people with heart failure have trouble sleeping. Your doctor may be able to find out what is causing your sleep problems and help you get a good night's sleep.

Click here to view a Decision Point.Sleep Apnea: Should I Have a Sleep Study?
Click here to view an Actionset.Insomnia: Improving Your Sleep

Having a healthy sex life

Most people with heart failure can still have an active and safe sex life. Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about having sex.

Unfortunately, sexual problems are common. Your interest may drop, or you may have shortness of breath or other symptoms that limit your ability to have sex. Men may have erection problems.

Talk to your doctor. You can get help for erection problems or other sexual troubles.

Other things you can do to take care of yourself

Help for caregivers

It can be rewarding to help a loved one with heart failure. But it's also a lot of work. And it can be hard emotionally.

If you are taking care of a loved one, make sure that you also take care of yourself. This can mean taking breaks by getting help from family or friends. You also may be able to use respite care. These services provide someone who will stay with your loved one while you get out of the house for a few hours.

More information


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