When you’re notified for the first time that you have congestive heart failure (CHF), perhaps you initially felt worried and frightened for your own life. Maybe you’ve heard stories from your friends or relatives about people who’ve been diagnosed with the same thing and haven’t lived a normal life ever since. You may also have many questions in mind due to the fear that you may also go down the same road, or worse, lose your life because of it.
The truth is, having congestive heart failure doesn’t necessarily mean your life is completely over. Heart failure can only be life-threatening if you don’t take the proper steps to slow the condition down. As long as you understand the true nature of this condition, follow your doctor’s tips, and make better and healthier lifestyle decisions, you can still live well and take control of your heart failure.
What Is A Healthy Heart?
The heart is a muscle and a vital organ responsible for pumping blood, nutrients, and oxygen into your entire body system. Its size is often compared to the size of your fist. When you have a healthy heart, your normal heart rate ranges from 50 – 80 beats per sixty seconds, and your blood pressure and cholesterol are at healthy levels. But what does it mean when you’re diagnosed with congestive heart failure?
What Is Congestive Heart Failure?
Congestive heart failure (CHF) can be a scary term to hear from your doctor, but it’s not actually a heart disease. It’s a medical term used by healthcare professionals to describe some symptoms brought by different health diseases. CHF doesn’t also mean that your heart has completely stopped working. Otherwise, that would be termed Cardiac Arrest (the abrupt stopping of your heartbeat).
A congestive heart failure means that your heart is currently incapable of pumping enough blood to your body systems, leading to reduced blood flow and congested body tissues. When this happens, you may experience swelling in your stomach, legs, or ankles, and your lungs will be filled with fluid, interrupting your normal breathing.
Often, CHF happens to people who have current health conditions or diseases like diabetes, hypertension (a.k.a, high blood pressure), coronary artery disease (CAD), and obesity. These health diseases will weaken your heart and eventually reduce its ability to pump enough blood and oxygen all over your body.
How To Live Well With CHF?
While this heart condition may require immediate and regular medical attention, people diagnosed with CHF can still live a happy and thriving life. As long as you’re willing to make major lifestyle changes, you can mitigate the effects and symptoms brought by heart failure and prevent it from worsening. Here’s a how-to guide to help you live well despite having congestive heart failure.
Lead A Proactive Lifestyle
This may sound contradictory, considering that you’re discouraged from doing anything that stresses your heart. When you have CHF, you have more reason to keep moving and be proactive. Since your heart can’t pump enough oxygen and blood like it used to, you’ll need to stick to light and easy exercises. Being proactive and committing to regular exercises will help improve your blood flow, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, and support weight loss (especially when you have CHF due to obesity).
Even as simple as walking around the neighborhood or gardening is enough to promote healthy blood circulation and strengthen your heart and cardiovascular system. If you’re having difficulty engaging in physical activities, it’d also help if you hire a personal nurse from Homenursingwithheart.com or other home care services to assist you during your daily exercises or physical activities. Just make sure to confer with your doctor first before engaging in any exercise regimen or see if they can recommend you some activities you can safely enjoy.
Follow A Low-Sodium Diet
Your doctor will often prescribe you a specific diet to ensure you don’t consume anything that will worsen your condition and symptoms. This diet aims to minimize your salt consumption as too much sodium can cause fluid retention in your tissues, worsening your heart failure symptoms. Here are some guidelines to help you stick to your low-sodium diet.
Cook with Less Salt
When preparing meals at home, make sure you only cook with less salt. If possible, you can find some natural food seasoning alternatives for salt, such as spices, herbs, or freshly ground pepper. When marinating meat, you can use vinegar or natural citrus juices instead of salt. It’s also ideal to consult your doctor or a professional nutritionist to help you come up with low-sodium recipes.
Watch Out for Foods with Sodium
Meanwhile, if you decide to eat canned or packaged foods, take time to read their food labels or nutritional information first and watch out for their sodium content. See how much sodium does every package or food serving has. Most importantly, go through the ingredient list and notice if salt or sodium is on the list. If it’s high in salt or sodium content, find an alternative.
Highlight Your Dietary Needs When Dining Out
Just because you have CHF doesn’t mean you’re banned from dining out for life. After all, you’re still in control of which food you would like to order. So, find yourself some restaurants that are willing to cater to your specific dietary needs. Avoid eating out at fast-food restaurants as they can only serve you food rich in sodium. Furthermore, when dining out, don’t forget to tell the chef or the waiter taking your order to prepare your food without salt or MSG.
Quit Smoking For Good
If you’re an active smoker, now’s the best time to quit for good. Besides damaging your lungs, it’ll also worsen your congestive heart failure in no time. While it may not be easy to quit smoking at once, you can get some help from your loved ones or sign up for nicotine replacement therapy. Here are some tips to help you:
- Get rid of any item that reminds you of your smoking habit. Avoiding triggers will reduce your risk for a smoking relapse
- Chew sugarless gum to fight off your cravings
- Meditate or practice deep breathing exercises to relieve the symptoms of smoking withdrawal
- Avoid hanging out with active smokers
- Join support groups or attend counseling.
Whenever you feel discouraged or hopeless about quitting smoking, remind yourself about how helpful this will be towards living a healthier, better, and longer life.
Keep Up With Your Medications
Maintaining your medications is crucial in managing your CHF and its symptoms. Your doctor prescribes these medicines to help regulate your blood pressure, slow down your heart rate, calm down your blood vessels and remove excess fluid from your heart. You must remember to take them consistently according to the doses advised by your doctor.
If you’re having difficulty maintaining your medications, ask for help from your loved ones so they can remind you about your medication schedule. If you’re living alone, your personal nurse can also assist you in following your medication schedule.
Establish Techniques That Will Alleviate Your Stress And Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are prevalent among people diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Due to their condition, some of you may feel frustrated, sad, and anxious about being unwell and unable to do the things you used to enjoy. Being uncertain about your future can also trigger your anxiety. Unfortunately, allowing yourself to immerse and drown under these negative thoughts could cause depression.
Depression is an intense mental health issue that could also worsen your congestive heart failure in no time. Learn how to manage your stress and anxiety and don’t let these feelings overcome you. Here are some techniques to help you alleviate your stress and anxiety:
- Stay active and continue doing what makes you happy, as long as they’re not strenuous. Talk to your doctor and know more about your physical restrictions.
- Socialize with your friends and loved ones by meeting for brunch, enjoying a leisurely walk, or catching up virtually.
- Start your mornings with 3 to 5 minutes of meditation to help you start on a positive mindset.
- Express your fears and concerns to your loved ones. If you’re not yet comfortable opening up to someone, you can talk to a therapist or write down your thoughts on paper.
Being diagnosed with congestive heart failure isn’t the end of the world for you. Relax, live your life to the fullest, and don’t let stress and anxiety get the best of you.
Save Your Energy
Congestive heart failure might make you feel more weary than usual. This is due to your heart not pumping enough oxygen and blood into your body, causing you to feel tired more quickly. To prevent you from feeling lethargic, you need to know how to save your energy.
For example, always strive to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Let yourself enjoy some power naps by taking a rest for 20 to 90 minutes maximum. Quick naps will help you wake up feeling more energized and refreshed.
Travel With Precaution
Your heart failure shouldn’t be a hindrance in your desire to travel. You can still travel as much as possible even when you have CHF, as long as you’re cautious. Talk to your doctor first about your travel plans and exchange your phone numbers so you can contact each other in case of an emergency.
Don’t forget to pack enough medications to last the entire trip and bring your medical certificate and medical ID, especially when you’re traveling internationally. Most importantly, be cautious of the food and water you drink to ensure you don’t contract any virus or infection that could worsen your heart failure symptoms.
With the help of your doctor, lifestyle changes, and proper medical maintenance, you can still live the fulfilling and happy life you want despite your congestive heart failure symptoms. If you suspect that the treatment options and prescribed medications aren’t working for you, report it to your doctor immediately as they may recommend you to undergo surgery.