What You Should Know About Heart Failure

Heart failure is a common condition. Despite its name, heart failure does not mean that your heart will fail and suddenly stop working. It occurs when the heart does not pump enough blood to the rest of the body.

Fluid retention is the most common reason for a visit to the emergency room for someone with heart failure. Many times this fluid or congestion is due to eating foods high in salt or sodium.

Causes of Heart Failure

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attacks or valve problems
  • High blood glucose
  • Blood clots or plaque in the arteries of the heart
  • Stroke
  • Virus
  • Alcohol and some types of toxic medications 

Common Symptoms

Symptoms of Heart Failure: Feelings of tiredness and weakness, Shortness of breath, which can happen even during mild activity or at night during your sleep, Difficulty breathing while lying down flat, Weight gain from fluid retention; Swelling in the legs, ankles or stomach area

  • Weakness
  • Difficulty walking or doing everyday activities
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Sleepiness or trouble thinking
  • Coughing
  • Trouble laying flat
  • Weight gain
  • Swelling in the abdomen or stomach sickness
  • Leg and ankle swelling
  • Waking at night short of breath

You may have one or more of these symptoms. Learn to recognize YOUR symptoms of heart failure. Everyone is different!

Managing Your Heart Failure: Introduction

Common Feelings About Heart Failure

It is common for people to feel depressed or anxious after learning they have a chronic disease such as heart failure. As you learn more about heart failure, you will see that it is possible to cope with the condition and still have a good quality of life. If ongoing feelings of depression or anxiety are interfering with your daily activities or relationships, you should seek help. Contact your doctor. 

If you have any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, you may be experiencing depression: 

  • Sad or “empty” feelings
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt or hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Preoccupation with death

If you have any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, you may be experiencing anxiety:

  • Excessive worry
  • Fear
  • Edginess or restlessness
  • Tension 

It is important to recognize and treat depression and anxiety. Having emotional problems is nothing to be ashamed of. If you are having problems coping with your feelings about heart failure, you should seek help and support. Talking about your feelings with someone will help make your worry less overwhelming. 

Anger can be common when patients learn they have heart failure. Part of the problem is a lack of understanding of what heart failure is and what can be done about it. Getting more information can help you feel more in control. 

Good communication with your doctors, nurses, and family and friends is also helpful in working out feelings of anger and anxiety.

Please visit our website for information that will help you.

See Stress, Anxiety and Depression for more information. 

Return to Work

Not everyone who is diagnosed with heart failure needs to stop working. In fact, continuing to work may help both your health and mood by keeping you challenged, giving you time with other people and maintaining your income. However, it is usually best to wait until your symptoms are stable and your medications have been optimized before considering a return to work.

The decision will also be affected by the type of work you do. You are more likely to return to your job sooner if you work at a desk than if you have a physically demanding position. It may also be more difficult to return to work that is mentally demanding and stressful. It is always a good idea to return gradually to your job. It will be less tiring if you can start working part time, at least at the beginning.

Your doctor or vocational counsellor can help you decide whether and when you are ready to go back to work and whether you are able to return to your regular job. These professionals, as well as a social worker, can assist you with questions about disability income and benefits from your employer or social assistance if it is found that you are unable to return to work.

Risk Factors You Can Change

  • No smoking signNot smoking. If you do smoke, quit.
  • Avoid second-hand smoke
  • Walking every day.
  • Not drinking alcohol if you have been told that your heart failure is caused by the toxic effects of alcohol. Otherwise, limit your alcohol intake.
  • Controlling your blood glucose. For more information on managing pre-diabetes and diabetes go to the website for the Champlain Diabetes Regional Coordination Centre.
  • Choosing less salty and fatty foods.
  • Weighing yourself daily.
  • Knowing your signs of heart failure.
  • Calling your doctor if you have even one sign from the yellow zone in your
    ‘Heart Failure Daily Weight Stoplight Tool’.
  • Getting a yearly flu vaccine.
  • Getting a pneumonia vaccine (pneumovax) every 10 years (and finding out from your doctor when you had it last).

For information on the Heart Institute Quit Smoking Program, call 613-696-7069 or visit www.myquit.ca to learn about other
services to help you reduce or quit smoking.