Living with Heart Failure

Keep a close eye on symptoms

Strategies for adjusting to life with heart failure for you and your loved one

Heart failure comes in degrees of severity and therefore the symptoms can impact people differently. Some people will barely notice any difference to their lives, some will have to make more adjustments to their lifestyle in order to maintain a high standard of living.

This can also change for people over time, as they get older or as other factors may come into play. That’s why we advise that all those involved keep a close eye on their symptoms and make sure to track them. For that reason, we have created a useful symptoms tracker to help with the process. If any symptoms change, it is important they consult with a doctor as soon as possible.

Here’s what they should keep an eye out for, and make note of any changes1,2:

Shortness of breath

Swelling – notably in the ankles, feet or lower legs

Tiredness or fatigue

Heart rate – especially if they feel their heart is racing or throbbing

Lack of appetite and nausea

Persistent coughing or wheezing

Disorientation or confusion – Heart failure means that blood may not be getting pumped around their body properly. This can cause too little oxygen or too much sodium which can affect their mood.

Tracking other factors that affect their day-to-day life such as sleep, weight and general mood/anxiety is a good habit to follow for any condition, and should always be registered with their doctor3.

Maintaining a strong support network

Keeping an eye on your loved one’s mental health.
It is important to maintain a close and strong support network around your loved one when living with heart failure. For some people, the change in lifestyle and usual ways of going about day to day activities can have a large impact on their mental health. It is perfectly natural to feel down or struggle with their condition, as well as yours. However, it is important to try and maintain a positive mental attitude and not let their disease define your lifestyle. Make sure you have someone close, a friend or loved one, that you can talk to about your role as a carer. If their condition is impacting your mental health heavily, you could consider seeing a therapist5.

Continuing to work

For most people, unless their job is particularly physically demanding, there should be little reason to stop working5. In fact, continuing to work can boost a person’s mood and morale overall while reducing stress around threats to financial stability. Encourage them to talk openly to their employer and HR representative about finding a solution that works best. In some forms of employment, it may mean a shift in usual tasks, or perhaps cutting down the amount of days or time they work each day, where possible.

Travelling

Unless someone has a very severe case of heart failure, there should be little to no impact on their ability to travel; however, they should always check in with their doctor first and confirm it with them, and only ever travel if they feel physically well and able5.

If flying, always first inform the airline of their condition. Depending on the severity of their disease they may need assistance getting around the airport, or from the gate to the aircraft. On long haul flights it is important to move about in order to reduce the risk of blood clots, ensure they ask a doctor for information on what small exercises would suit them best. They may also consider wearing compression socks5.

It is also a good practice/habit to take extra medication and keep it with you, should baggage be lost, stolen or any items misplaced. Keep in mind that most heart failure medication will be prescription based and you may struggle to purchase any more in your country of destination without the prescription of a local doctor5.

Here are some simple steps to follow to help keep your caregiving role healthy4:

Understand what they’re going through – be an ear to listen or shoulder to lean on. heart failure can cause worry, depression and anxiety. Talk to them about it. Sometimes all people need is someone to listen.

Make a plan – Listen to the information from your doctor and healthcare team and then build a realistic, actionable plan around it. Having a plan with clear goals helps the journey move in the right direction.

Learn about their condition - there’s a lot of information to digest at times like these. Help your loved one by educating yourself and understand what’s required in their disease management plan.

Don’t become a hermit - don’t let heart failure define your life. Get up and out and see people. Try to keep your social life as close to normal as possible.

Exercise together – Exercise is key to maintaining your health when living with heart failure. Sometimes this can be particularly difficult for those people who are inexperienced and aren’t used to exercising. So, go along and join them; it will help build their confidence while also benefitting you.

Another consideration would be finding and joining a support group for heart failure in your area. These groups can be a great source of strength, aid and encouragement. Hearing from people in the same situation as you can bring hope and, with time, allow you to possibly bring hope to others, too. Ask your doctor or local health service for any information on support groups in your area.

FIND MORE HELP

References

  1. Symptoms of heart failure. Available online at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-failure/symptoms/. Last accessed August 25 2020
  2. Mayo Clinic. Symptoms of Heart Failure. Available online at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-failure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373142. Last accessed August 25 2020
  3. Routine self-tracking of health. Available online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5977566/. Last accessed 16 September 2020.
  4. Tips for caring for someone with heart failure. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/heart-failure/caregiving-tips. Last accessed 16 September 2020.
  5. Living with heart failure. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heart-failure/living-with/. Last accessed 16 September 2020.

12 February 2021

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