Wheezing, feeling tired and weak, trouble focusing, swelling, a fast or irregular heartbeat, being short of breath—during activity and/or rest—and sudden weight gain caused by the body holding fluid. These are just a few of the symptoms that people with heart failure commonly experience (1).
If you have heart failure, you share this journey with the approximately 750,000 Canadians that currently live with this condition; and the additional 100,000 who are diagnosed annually (2). Although coming to grips with how to manage such a diagnosis can be daunting, as can coping with the impacts on your everyday life, there are things that you and your health care providers can do to improve certain aspects of your treatment plan and well-being (3-14).
Research on the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal outlines the following three tips for living with heart failure. Click on each title for more information.
Heart failure is yet another health condition that calls for you to be physically active. What’s the benefit in this case? Well, engaging in exercise may significantly improve physical function and quality of life in people with chronic heart failure without any worsening of symptoms. These positive effects are seen when comparing those who exercise to those who do not exercise or those who receive usual care. Even better, it appears that details such as the type of exercise performed (specifically aerobic training, strength training, both, or exercise in therapy pools), how long it is done for, how often, at what intensity, and the location may not matter (3). This means that you and your health care provider have multiple options for identifying an exercise prescription that is safe and sustainable for you.
As the saying goes, some things are easier said than done. Self-care is one such thing. When it comes to self-care, some people with heart failure find it hard to implement recommended lifestyle changes—like the physical activity we just discussed (4). If you are struggling, a variety of methods exist to bolster your self-care efforts. These include: 1) working together with your health care provider to create a tailored self-care plan that takes into account your symptoms, needs, preferences, and capabilities; 2) using ‘decision aids’ to assist you in making tough choices; 3) considering psychological strategies—such as cognitive behavioural therapy—that motivate and help you tackle the negative thoughts and conflicting feelings you may be experiencing; and 4) nurse-led self-care approaches (5-8).
Hospitalization is a reality for some people with heart failure, as is being re-hospitalized shortly after coming home (9). This highlights the importance of transitional care that continues to meet people’s medical needs as they transition from the hospital to their homes (10;11). This type of care can be received remotely through telephone support or in-person via home visits by a health professional or by attending heart failure clinics. Evidence shows that home visiting programs and heart failure clinics can reduce the chances of being readmitted to the hospital and of death within six months after an initial hospitalization due to heart failure (12-14). If you are facing the challenge of transitioning from a hospital setting to your home, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider about the transitional care options available to you.