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Can You Reverse Heart Failure?

Reviewed on 8/23/2018

Ask a Doctor

My father had a heart attack last month due to congestive heart failure. I really want him to start taking his health seriously; he’s in a stressful job and doesn’t pay much attention to what he eats or what kind of exercise he gets. Can heart failure get better? Can you reverse heart failure?

Doctor's Response

Reducing stress, eating healthy, and exercising (with permission of a doctor) are all great ways to help get your dad back on the right track.

The treatment of heart failure depends on the exact cause, but it can usually be treated effectively. The overall goals are to correct underlying causes, to relieve symptoms, and to prevent worsening of the condition. Symptoms are relieved by removing excess fluid from the body, improving blood flow, improving heart muscle function, and increasing delivery of oxygen to the body tissues. This can be done by the various congestive heart failure treatments listed in this sections.

If the underlying cause of heart failure is not correctable by surgery or catheterization procedures, medical treatment is composed of lifestyle changes and medications.

Lifestyle changes recommended by your doctor or other health care professional can help relieve symptoms, slow the progression of heart failure, and improve one's quality of life. Lifestyle changes that may be helpful in preventing or relieving heart failure include those recommended by the American Heart Association and other organizations as part of a heart-healthy lifestyle.

  • Once diagnosed and under the care of a qualified medical professional, patients can and should do several things at home to increase their comfort and reduce the chance of the condition getting worse.
  • In fact, the more active role patients take in managing heart failure, the more likely they are to do well.
  • Making the lifestyle changes described here will make a real difference. Not only will patients feel better, but they will increase their chances of a longer, healthier life.

Treat swelling with the following measures:

  • Elevate the feet and legs if they are swollen.
  • Eat a reduced-salt diet.
  • Weigh in every morning before breakfast and record it in a diary that can be shown to a health care provider.

Avoid the following:

  • Not taking prescribed medications
  • Smoking (in all forms)
  • Alcohol (up to one drink per day is usually fine, unless prone to excessive intake/alcoholism)
  • Excessive emotional stress and/or depression (seek professional help)
  • High altitude (breathing is more difficult because of the lower level of oxygen in the atmosphere; pressurized cabin air travel is usually fine)
  • Herbal or other complementary medicine without first consulting a doctor to see if they are safe

Patients with congestive heart failure should know the following information that may apply to their disease:

  • Keep walking or doing some form of aerobic exercise. Join a cardiac rehabilitation program (this program can monitor a person's exercise capacity).
  • People with diabetes must control their blood sugar level every day. Patients should know their HbA1C level. It should be less than 7.0%, and preferably less than 6.5%.
  • People with high blood pressure should measure it regularly, and make sure they know the value, (systolic pressure should be below 140 mm Hg in everyone and even below 130 in many individuals).
  • People with elevated lipid levels (cholesterol and triglycerides) can take medications to get the bad cholesterol (LDL) below 70 optimally (or at least below 100), good cholesterol (HDL) above 40 for men and 50 for women, and the triglycerides below 150.

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Reviewed on 8/23/2018
References
Dumitru, I., MD. "Heart Failure." Medscape. Updated: Jan 11, 2016.
<http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/163062-overview>
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