There is no cure for heart failure, but it does not necessarily mean the end of one’s productive life.

That said, heart failure patients will likely need to take measures to protect their heart, reduce edema (swelling caused by excess fluid in the body) and avoid overexertion.

There is usually no cure for congestive heart failure but with proper medical management and lifestyle changes, you can continue to live a rewarding life,” says Clinical Associate Professor David Sim, Deputy Head and Senior Consultant, Department of Cardiology and Director, Heart Failure Programme, National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), a member of the SingHealth group.

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11 Tips to manage heart failure in your daily life

1. Take medications as prescribed

To alleviate your congestive heart failure symptoms, your doctor may prescribe a variety of medications, including diuretics, digoxin, vasodilators and other drugs. 

Never stop taking them even if you feel well and do discuss with your doctor any side effect you may have. 

It is common for your doctor to increase the dose even if you feel better because most medicines work best at certain doses.

2. Restrict fluid intake to less than one litre per day

This includes all beverages, fruits, soup, porridge and jelly etc.

3. Cut down on salt (sodium)

Limit salt intake to less than one level teaspoon or less than 2g a day. Consider seasoning your dishes with natural herbs or lemon. Avoid canned and processed foods, as well as highly salted smoked or cured meats such as bacon, ham and sausages. At the hawker centre, beware of high-sodium dishes such as fish ball noodles, prawn mee and lor mee. Do not add gravy/sauces to your food.

Too much sodium in your diet will raise your blood pressure, make the diuretics less effective and contribute to the swelling in your lower limbs.

4. Reduce your intake of saturated fats and cholesterol

Too much saturated fats and cholesterol can cause plaque deposits to form in the heart arteries resulting in heart attack. Local favourites such as char kway teow and fried hokkien prawn noodles should be avoided as these dishes are high in saturated fats and cholesterol.

When at the supermarket, look out for the Health Promotion Board’s “Healthier Choice” symbol to help you make healthier food choices.

5. Stay active within your limits

While it’s important to get plenty of rest, some light physical activity may help to improve your well-being and effort tolerance. After checking with your doctor, you should consider engaging in light exercises such as walking, cycling, swimming and yoga.

Start with short periods of easy activity, then gradually increase as tolerated.Aim to exercise at least three times a week, 30 minutes each time. 

Stop physical activity immediately if you develop worsening chest discomfort or shortness of breath.

6. Keep a close watch of your weight

Contact your heart failure team or seek medical advice within 24 hours if you experience:

  • Sudden weight gain of more than 2kg over three days

  • Increased breathing difficulty with activity or when lying down

  • Increased swelling of abdomen, ankles, feet or legs

  • Loss of appetite with bloatedness                         

7. Quit smoking (if you haven't)

Smoking causes plaque buildup and narrowing of heart arteries, resulting in impaired blood flow to the heart muscles. The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke also restricts the flow of blood in the heart.

8. Abstain from alcohol

If you have heart failure, it is important to abstain from alcohol intake especially if the cause of your heart failure is due to long term alcohol abuse.

9. Go for cardiac rehab

Ask your doctor about cardiac rehabilitation. If you’re the right candidate, cardiac rehab can maximise your potential for good heart health and function, all under the guidance of a team of health professionals.

10. Manage negative emotions

Receiving a diagnosis of heart failure can be hard to take at first. Talk to your doctor, spouse, family members or close friends about your fears, stress and anxiety. Seek help early if you think you may be at risk of depression.

11. Travel smart

Being diagnosed with heart failure does not mean the end of overseas travel. Make sure you pack more than enough medications in case of delays. Keep your medications with you and not in your checked luggage. Avoid high altitude destinations and wear compression stockings during long flights to prevent blood clots.

When is it a medical emergency

Call for an ambulance (995) or proceed to the nearest Emergency Department immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Sudden or severe shortness of breath

  • Chest discomfort

  • Fainting or severe giddiness

  • Feeling unwell

Ref: R14

Other articles you may be interested in:

Heart Failure: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Worst Foods for Your Heart (Foods to Avoid)

Supplements for a Healthy Heart