Heart failure — this dire-sounding term often brings to mind a heart that has beat its last. Not so. Heart failure means that the heart isn’t able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Common effects of heart failure include fatigue, shortness of breath, and swelling in the legs.
Many people are surprised to learn that heart failure is often a manageable condition. Taking medications, balancing exercise and rest, following a low-sodium diet, and being careful about fluid intake can help keep it in check. But heart failure can be unpredictable. After a long stretch of being under control, it can flare up, and even require a hospital stay.
Sometimes these flare-ups come from out of the blue, caused by an infection or a medication. Most of the time, though, they creep up, announcing themselves with subtle changes like being more tired than usual or quickly gaining several pounds.
|Warning signs of worsening heart failureIf you have heart failure, call your doctor if you notice any of these signs:Sudden weight gain (2–3 pounds in one day or 5 or more pounds in one week)Extra swelling in the feet or anklesSwelling or pain in the abdomenShortness of breath not related to exerciseDiscomfort or trouble breathing when lying flatWaking up feeling short of breathCoughing or wheezingIncreased fatigueMental confusionLoss of appetite|
To effectively monitor your symptoms, you need to know the signs of trouble. This can be tricky because symptoms may seem to come and go and it can be hard to tell the difference between the side effects of medications and the symptoms of heart failure itself, especially if they’re mild.
Even small shifts can be significant. By writing down any new symptoms or changes in existing ones, you can track changes over time. At the end of each day, fill in your symptoms and note their severity on a scale of one to five.
As you look at your records, ask yourself:
- Are there any patterns in my symptoms?
- Do my symptoms seem to be getting better or worse?
- Am I having any new symptoms?
- Is there anything I haven’t written down?
Most important, stay in close communication with your doctor and healthcare team. Together you can catch changes in your condition early and help avoid complications.
For more on diagnosing and managing heart failure, read Heart Failure: Understanding the condition and optimizing treatment, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; …
Luke 11:28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
Ecclesiastes 7:14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.
1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant
Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
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