Diagnosis & managing heart failure
If you think that someone you know is experiencing symptoms of heart failure, the first step should always be for them to speak to their doctor. The doctor will perform an examination and ask a few questions to help determine a possible diagnosis. Should the doctor feel it necessary, they may recommend one or more tests, including:
Tips for caregivers
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
Lifestyle and advice tips for HF
Most people will have to make lifestyle changes in order to manage their Heart failure6,7. This means a low-impact, regular exercise regime, healthier eating and more sensible lifestyle choices – all aimed at keeping the heart functioning as well as possible8.
Any changes to your diet or exercise regime should be made under the guidance of your doctor.
People with heart failure need to maintain a good level of physical activity9. This helps not only the body, but also the mind10. It is important to build an exercise program slowly but regularly7. This can be a mix of cardio and light weight-training.
Here are some useful tips to follow:
It is important to encourage those with heart failure to take exercise regularly. Scheduling exercise at the same time every day can help make it a regular part of their life8. This should be built up over time so encourage them to start off slow and not overdo it7,8.
Low-impact aerobic exercise combined with some light strength training is usually best11. Walking is a great low-impact form of exercise. They should aim to reach 30-40 mins of exercise at a comfortable level9. Their healthcare team can help define the best regime.
Things to avoid/be conscious of7:
• Any sort of high-intensity activities.
• Reduce activity when tired.
• Make sure they take adequate rest periods.
Keeping a heart working well also means paying close attention to what a person is eating. A good diet can lower cholesterol, sodium levels and reduce weight, which takes pressure off the heart1,2.
Don’t try crash-dieting or fads, balance is key. Try to have them eat12:
• Five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
• Wholegrain bread, rice and pasta.
• A small number of dairy products.
• Protein rich foods like eggs, fish, meat and beans – in moderation.
• Very little high-fat or sugary foods.
• Sodium intake should be discussed and managed with your treating physician. Excess sodium is best avoided where possible and only taken very minimally. Sodium can raise blood pressure and have negative effects on the heart.
Alcohol should also be limited. Talk to a doctor about alcohol consumption guidelines and stick to them..
Supporting a loved one with HF
Illnesses like heart failure often come suddenly and can cause a shock. And, the realisation that you will become that person’s carer is both shocking and daunting, too. The first step in supporting your loved one is simply being there for them. Then learning about and supporting them on their journey . Of course, you must never forget to take care of yourself, also13.
Here are some tips to managing your role as a caregiver:
Understand the support needed – heart failure can affect people differently, depending on the severity and associated comorbidities. It is important to listen to their doctor and understand their needs and the level of support required. Educating yourself on the required lifestyle changes, medications and other needs can make it easier for you to help them manage their condition.
Be there for them – emotional support is paramount in the management of any illness. Try to talk to them regularly about their condition, what they’re going through and how it’s affecting them. It can also be beneficial to suggest they talk to a therapist or support group in your area.
Be there for you - It is important to keep a close eye on your own emotions, too. This is also your struggle and you may benefit from talking to other carers or people living with heart failure. Keep your health as a priority and if you begin to feel stressed, overwhelmed or depressed, talk to someone.
Use support networks– most places will have one, if not many, different types of support groups and networks you can benefit from. Most of them are free of charge and can really act as a space to reduce stress and anxiety. Ask your healthcare team and they can recommend some for you.
Emotional Support for Caregivers
It is important to remember that supporting a loved one with a serious disease can be a heavy burden on both of you. Always remember to keep an eye on your own mental wellbeing and ensure that you, too, have a support network around you that can help you during difficult times. If you cannot reach out to friends or family, ask your healthcare team about support groups in your area.