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Heart Failure: Watching Your Fluids

What is an Actionset?

Too much fluid in your body can make it harder for your already-weakened heart to pump. Your doctor may prescribe a diuretic to help get rid of excess fluid. He or she may also suggest that you limit liquids so that your body can get rid of the extra water and sodium.

  • Monitoring your fluid intake can reduce complications and hospitalizations.
  • All foods that melt (such as ice cream, gelatin, and flavored ice pops) and foods that contain a lot of liquid (such as soup) are considered liquids. Be sure to count these in your daily intake.
  • Space your liquids throughout the day. Then you won't be tempted to drink more than the amount you are allowed.
  • To relieve thirst without taking in extra water, try chewing gum, sucking on hard candy (sugarless if you are diabetic), or rinsing your mouth with water and spitting it out.

Fluid usually is not restricted in heart failure unless you have advanced or severe heart failure. Usually, restricting sodium intake alone is enough to help your body get rid of extra fluids.

But if your doctor recommends that you limit the amount of fluids you drink and eat (fluid intake), you will need to keep track of all beverages and any foods that contain a lot of liquid. Your doctor will tell you how much fluid you can have in a day.

Test Your Knowledge

Fluid intake usually isn't restricted in heart failure unless your doctor gives you a specific fluid limit.


Too much fluid in your body can make it harder for your already-weakened heart to pump and can make the symptoms of heart failure worse. Things that affect the amount of fluid in your body include:

  • Too much sodium, which will cause your body to hold onto (retain) extra fluid. Following a low-sodium diet is important in preventing too much fluid from building up in your body.
  • Diuretics, which help your body get rid of excess fluid.
  • The amount of fluid you drink, especially if you cannot get rid of the extra fluid by limiting sodium and taking medicines.

Test Your Knowledge

It is important to follow your fluid recommendations in heart failure:

So that you can eat more salt.
Because it can help maintain a normal sodium balance.
So that you don't have to keep track of the sodium in your diet.
So that you can quit taking your medicines.

Your doctor will tell you how much fluid you should be taking in every day. Recommendations may range from about 1500 mL (1.6 qt) to 2000 mL (2 qt), or about 48 fl oz (1420 mL) to 64 fl oz (1893 mL) a day. Here are the amounts of fluid in some common equivalent household measures:

Fluid equivalents
Household measureEquivalent fluid ounces Equivalent milliliters (mL)
1 tablespoon of fluid½ fluid ounce15 mL
½ cup of fluid 4 fluid ouncesAbout 120 mL
1 cup of fluid 8 fluid ouncesAbout 250 mL
1 quart of fluid32 fluid ouncesAbout 1,000 mL (1 liter)

It is important to know how much fluid your regular drinking glasses hold. You can find out by filling your drinking glass with water and then measuring the amount in a measuring cup. After you know this, you won't have to measure every time.

Besides water, milk, juices, and other beverages, some foods contain a lot of fluid. Any foods that will melt (such as ice cream, gelatin, or flavored ice treats) or foods that have a lot of liquid (such as soup) should also be measured and counted as part of your fluid intake.

How to keep track of your fluid intake

One method for keeping track of your fluid intake is to have an empty container that holds the amount of fluid you are allowed for the day. As you drink fluids, put an equal amount of water into the container until you reach your fluid limit. When the container is full, you have reached your fluid limit and should stop drinking.

Another method for keeping track of your fluid intake is to allow yourself 8 fl oz (1 cup) of fluid at each meal [3 x 8 fl oz = 24 fl oz, or 3 cup]. You can then fill a container with water to keep in your refrigerator that contains the balance of your fluid allowance. For example, if you are allowed 48 fl oz (6 cup) of fluid a day, you could have 24 fl oz (3 cup) divided into three meals and then another 24 fl oz (3 cup) in the refrigerator to drink during the day. If you drink other beverages besides water (such as coffee, juice, or soft drinks), then you would need to pour out an equal amount of water from your container in the refrigerator.

Test Your Knowledge

To keep track of your fluid intake, you should:

Estimate how much you drink during the day.
Keep track of only the water you drink.
Measure all beverages and all foods that have a lot of fluid in them.
Drink only at meals.

Which is equal to 1 fluid quart?

8 fluid ounces
About 15 milliliters, or ½ fluid ounce
About 1 liter, or 32 fluid ounces
About 125 milliliters, or 4 fluid ounces

Talk with your health professional

If you have questions about this information, take it with you when you visit your cardiologist, family doctor, dietitian, or nurse. You may want to mark areas or make notes in the margins of the pages where you have questions.

If you would like more information on fluid intake in heart failure, the following resource is available:


American Heart Association (AHA)
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX 75231
Phone: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721)
Web Address:

Visit the American Heart Association (AHA) website for information on physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions. You can search for information on heart disease and stroke, share information with friends and family, and use tools to help you make heart-healthy goals and plans. Contact the AHA to find your nearest local or state AHA group. The AHA provides brochures and information about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and provide information and support.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
Phone: (301) 592-8573
Fax: (240) 629-3246
TDD: (240) 629-3255
Email: [email protected]
Web Address:

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing and treating:

National Institutes of Health Senior Health
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20892
Phone: 1-800-222-2225 Aging Information Center
TDD: 1-800-222-4225
Email: [email protected]
Web Address:

This website for older adults offers aging-related health information. The website's senior-friendly features include large print, simple navigation, and short, easy-to-read segments of information. A visitor to this website can click special buttons to hear the text aloud, make the text larger, or turn on higher contrast for easier viewing.

The site was developed by the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine, both part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIHSeniorHealth features up-to-date health information from NIH. Also, the American Geriatrics Society provides independent review of some of the material found on this website.

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ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerRakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
Specialist Medical ReviewerStephen Fort, MD, MRCP, FRCPC - Interventional Cardiology
Last RevisedApril 26, 2012

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