Gundersen's Heart Failure Clinic treats heart failure with a combination of lifestyle changes and drug therapies. The clinic provides more services than the traditional cardiology clinic with consistent and frequent follow-up care in collaboration with your primary provider.
About Heart Failure
Heart failure can occur when the heart muscle is significantly weakened. It is then unable to forcefully pump blood out to the body. The most common causes of heart failure are:
- Coronary artery disease.
- Heart attack (myocardial infarction).
- Hypertension (high blood pressure).
- Valvular heart disease.
- Cardiomyopathy (enlargement and weakening of the heart muscle).
- Endocarditis and myocarditis (infection of heart valves or muscle).
- Severe lung disease.
When blood does not move through the heart in a forceful way, the following symptoms occur:
- Shortness of breath.
- Dry hacking cough.
- Edema (swelling) of the hands, feet, legs, and/or abdomen.
- Weight gain from fluid retention, kidneys hold onto more fluid.
- Sleep problems (fluid pools in the lungs and can cause shortness of breath when you lie down).
- Congested lungs and pulmonary edema (shortness of breath or coughing from fluid leaking into the lungs).
Treatment of heart failure consists of medications, low-salt diet, moderate activity and rest. It is necessary to avoid substances that damage the heart, such as alcohol, tobacco, and second-hand smoke. Heart failure is controllable, not curable. It is important to take medications exactly as prescribed.
Monitor your condition
Taking care of yourself and practicing healthy living habits can help keep your condition from getting worse. Take steps to avoid colds. Watch your blood pressure and your cholesterol levels. Maintain a healthy weight. These are all ways to keep track of your overall health.
Weigh yourself daily.
Weighing yourself daily (or as instructed by your healthcare provider) is one of the best ways to keep track of your heart failure. Sudden weight gain may be a sign that fluid is building up in your body. Weigh yourself at the same time, with the same scale, and with the same amount of clothing. Be sure to record it on a simple chart. If you gain two to four pounds within a three-day period, call your healthcare provider.
Lower intensity exercise, like walking for a long duration, is encouraged. This type of training can help lessen the symptoms of heart failure. Exercise can also improve muscular strength, endurance, and the ability to perform activities of daily living. For further information on exercise and activity, refer to the chapter on cardiac rehab.
Learning to pace yourself in your daily activities will provide the extra rest your heart needs. Heart failure patients don’t have much reserve energy. Without allowing for rest periods during the day, you may run out of steam.
The more salt you eat - the more fluid your body retains. The more fluid your body retains - the harder your heart has to work.
Take notice of your symptoms. Experiencing new or increased symptoms could mean that your congestive heart failure isn’t under control. But if changes are caught early, your treatment can be adjusted and severe symptoms and hospitalization can be prevented.
Tell your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following symptoms, or if they worsen:
- Sudden weight gain.
- Shortness of breath.
- Swelling of the feet, ankles, and legs.
- Nausea or swelling in the abdomen.
Take care of your emotional health. There may be many emotions you and your family are experiencing about congestive heart failure. Ask about support groups in your area to help you cope.
Added information about heart failure is available from your doctor, nurse, or other healthcare provider.