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Managing Heart Failure

Guest Author - A. Maria Hester, M.D.

Heart failure is the most common reason for hospitalization for those over 65 years of age. There are close to 5 million people in America today living with heart failure. While this is a very serious condition, many people live vital, actives lives with the help of good medical management and healthy lifestyle choices.


Medications are extremely important and can promote a good quality of life for those living with heart failure. Unfortunately, many people do not take their medications as prescribed and this is a leading reason that patients are admitted to the hospital for this condition.
If you cannot afford your medications notify your doctor. He would much rather prescribe a less expensive alternative than allow you to end up in the hospital, or worse, because you donít take anything for this serious disease. Even if there is no cheaper drug available, he may have some suggestions on how to obtain your medication or be able to direct you to a medical case manager or social worker who can assist you. Pride is good, at times. When it comes to your health, forget your pride and tell your doctor what you need!

Common classes of medications to treat heart failure include:

1. Diuretics (water pills), which help your kidneys remove salt and water from your bloodstream and relieve the congestion in your blood vessels, thus helping your heart pump more efficiently. Be aware that just because you take diuretics to help remove salt from your body, it is not a license to pour salt on your food.
2. Digoxin. This medication strengthens the contractions of the heart and can help decrease your symptoms.
3. ACEI inhibitors and ARBs. These medications help dilate (expand) the blood vessels and lower the blood pressure, which decreases the amount of work the heart must do to pump blood. They also work to improve heart failure by other, far more complicated means.
4. Beta-blockers. These medications slow the heart rate and help diminish the negative effect of adrenaline-like substances on the heart.
5. Nitrates (nitroglycerin). Drugs in this class are not only used for coronary artery disease (blocked arteries in the heart). They are also used to manage heart failure due to their ability to dilate (open up) blood vessels.

Healthy Lifestyle

A heart-healthy diet can mean the difference between frequent hospitalizations and a vibrant life!
Read the labels when you shop! A low-sodium diet is vital. Excessive sodium in your diet can lead to fluid retention and frequent bouts of overt heart failure. A good goal for sodium is less than 2,400 mg daily, though your doctor may have more specific recommendations for you.
Limit your cholesterol to less than 200 mg daily.
Limit fat in the diet, especially saturated fat.
Limit alcohol intake. Ask your doctor if she thinks it is okay to drink any alcohol, and if so, how much would be appropriate for you.
Stop smoking.
Exercise regularly (with guidance from your doctor).
Weight yourself daily. Ask your doctor how much weight gain would concern her.
Reduce stress.
Keep a record of your symptoms.

Remember, you must play an active role in your health care. You life may depend on it!
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Content copyright © 2015 by A. Maria Hester, M.D.. All rights reserved.
This content was written by A. Maria Hester, M.D.. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Patricia Villani, MPA, PhD for details.


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