Living with Cardiac Insufficiency
Diet . Patients with heart failure must pay special attention to their diet. Salt intake should be controlled because it induces fluid retention and forces the heart to work more quickly and under more strain. The same is true of fat as it increases the likelihood of developing arteriosclerosis.
Exercise. Moderate exercise improves heart function. Many people with cardiac insufficiency notice their symptoms improve when they realise regular physical activity. Do not forget to ask your doctor what type of exercise you should do as it depends on each patient. Walking to the shops or climbing up short flights of stairs, for example, are habits that help keep you active throughout the day.
The importance of rest . Following an active lifestyle is very important, but rest is just as important, if not more so, as it gives the heart a chance to recover from the effort of exercising. People with heart failure often have trouble obtaining good quality sleep, whether because they have a cough, difficulty breathing or because they have to visit the bathroom due to the effect of their diuretic medication. Therefore they may need short daytime naps. Recommendations are to rest for half an hour after lunch and dinner. And if you do have problems sleeping at night, then you should discuss them with your healthcare team.
Stress. Ideally you must keep stress “under control”. Practising relaxation, listening to music, being more positive, exercising regularly, etc. are all methods that can help control stress levels. The heart has to work more intensely when you feel stressed or anxious.
Smoking. Smoking increases blood pressure and heart rate, and decreases the amount of oxygen circulating through the body. Smoking also increases arterial stiffness and makes the heart work harder. People who stop smoking are more likely to improve their symptoms.
Sex. The majority of individuals with heart failure can engage in sexual activity, provided their symptoms are under control. Some recommendations include: selecting quiet moments and in a familiar, relaxed setting; avoid practising sex after a large meal; and if you feel tired you should stop.
Vaccinations. Flu, colds and pneumonia can be quite serious for patients with heart failure. You must discuss the need for vaccinations and their frequency with your medical team.
Medicines. Treatment is always specific to each individual; nevertheless, all patients must follow their regime correctly and never alter the dose or discontinue a medication. If you do not follow the medical prescription, then not only may the treatment lose its effectiveness, but your condition could also worsen.
Travel. When you wish to travel, inform your healthcare team so they may prepare an up-to-date medical report and prescribe enough medication for your entire trip, plus a little extra in case something happens. If you are going to travel abroad, then it is a good idea to purchase healthcare insurance to cover the possibility of hospitalisation. While on holiday, it is important that you do not drop your guard and continue to manage your fluid and salt intake.
Emotional support. There are various support groups for patients with cardiac insufficiency that give advice and support to people suffering from heart disease. Chatting with other patients will help you assimilate lifestyle changes, follow recommendations and stick to healthy habits. Ask staff at your health centre about this type of organisation.
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