Kettering Health Network (ketteringhealth.org)
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What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a progressive condition in which a weakened heart is unable to pump enough blood through the heart muscle to provide adequate oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the body's cells. This often causes shortness of breath, fatigue and sometimes chronic coughing. As a result, everyday activities such as climbing stairs, walking or running become increasingly difficult. The heart is unable to keep up with its workload, and unable to meet the body's needs.


Systolic Heart Failure is when the heart muscle becomes weak and enlarged. The heart muscle can't squeeze as well as it should, so less blood can be pumped out of the ventricles (the heart's lower chambers).

Diastolic Heart Failure means that the heart has become stiff. It doesn't relax normally between contractions, so the ventricles don't fill with enough blood.

With the right treatment Heart Failure can be controlled. You can feel better and live better with fewer symptoms. Your goal is:

  • No shortness of breath
  • No weight gain of more than 2 pounds
  • No swelling in your feet, ankles, legs, or stomach
  • No chest pain

Some of the most common symptoms of Heart Failure are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry cough
  • Feeling tired or weak after little effort
  • Weight gain of 2 pounds in a day, and 5 in a week
  • Increase in swelling in your feet, ankles, legs, or stomach
  • Waking up short of breath
  • Using more pillows at night, or sleeping in a recliner

It is important to take good care of yourself when you have Heart Failure. Some of the things that are important to do every day are:

  • Weigh yourself in the morning, and write it down.
  • Take your medicines as prescribed.
  • Avoid salt and salty foods.
  • Check with your doctor to see if you should lower your water intake.
  • Stay active; take a walk.

A sudden weight gain means that your body is storing more water. It is a sign of worsening Heart Failure. Some important tips on weighing are:

  • Place your scale, paper, and a pencil in your bathroom.
  • Weigh yourself the first thing in the morning, after you urinate, but before you eat.
  • Weigh without clothes, or if you wear clothes be sure they are of similar weight.
  • Always use the same scale. If you don't have a scale, or can't afford one, ask a member of your healthcare team for assistance.
  • Write your weight down every day.
  • Call your doctor or healthcare provider if you gain 3 pounds in a day, or 4- 5 pounds, or more within a week.

Sodium from food and drinks makes your body hold onto water. The water causes swelling that makes your heart work harder. Sodium gets into your body by either the salt you add to your food or from the foods you eat that contain salt. Cutting back on both sources is very important!

Some tips for low sodium cooking include:

  • Take the saltshaker off the table and stove. Substitute seasonings such as herbs, garlic, lemon, and pepper.
  • Don't add salt to cooking water; try a splash of olive oil.
  • Avoid canned foods. Fresh and plain frozen vegetables have much less salt.
  • Read the labels of all prepared foods and drinks (boxes and cans); they're likely to be high in sodium.
  • Condiments are usually high in salt. Try dipping your fork into them rather than pouring them on your food.
  • Before using a salt substitute ask your doctor or healthcare provider if it is safe.

You can harm your heart by not taking your medications, or by taking medications not prescribed by your healthcare provider. It is important to take your medications as your physician prescribed even if you feel fine!

Some tips to help you take your medicines are:

  • Make a schedule. Taking medications with breakfast and at bedtime is sometimes helpful.
  • Refill your prescriptions when you have pills left to allow for possible delays.
  • Have a system. A weekly pill organizer can be a great help.
  • If you're having trouble, ask for help; medications can be confusing.

Staying active is important! Exercise such as walking can help your heart. Walking will help you to have more energy, feel less fatigued, and decrease your symptoms. Stay active as long as you're comfortable. Exercise as long as you don't feel short of breath or tired. Some tips include:

  • Plan activities like a walk, and make it a regular part of your day.
  • Pace yourself. Make sure that you're not short of breath, and you can make a full sentence while you walk.
  • Compare how much you were able to do today with the how much you did yesterday. It can give you a hint if your heart failure is increasing.

Cardiac rehabilitation can assist you with a personal exercise plan and guidance on how to stay active with heart failure. For more information, call the Kettering Cardiac Wellness and Rehabilitation department at (937) 395-8825.

Call your doctor or healthcare provided if you have:

  • Weight gain of 3 pounds in a day, or 5 pounds or more in a week
  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Increase in swelling in your feet, ankles, legs, or stomach
  • Waking up short of breath
  • Using more pillows at night, or sleeping in a recliner
  • Dry cough
  • Increased fatigue, or weakness

If you are or have:

  • Struggling to breathe
  • Unrelieved shortness of breath while sitting still
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion, or unable to think clearly