Heart failure usually has no cure, 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 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 Dr David Sim, Consultant, Department of Cardiology and Co-Director, Heart Failure Programme, National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), a member of the SingHealth group.

Heart failure and its common symptoms

Heart failure occurs when the heart is not pumping efficiently so less oxygenated blood reaches your organs and other parts of the body.

The most common symptoms of heart failure are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent coughing, especially when lying down
  • Swollen feet, ankles and legs
  • Abdominal swelling and pain
  • Fatigue

9 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 and do discuss with your doctor any side effect you may have.

2. Cut down on salt (sodium)

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.

Do not add salt to your food. 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.

3. 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.

4. Quit smoking

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.

5. Limit alcohol intake

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.

6. 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. Exercise in shorter bouts if you need to.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

Ref: R14