Heart Failure: Living with Heart Failure


Having heart failure does not mean you need to stop doing all your normal activities and enjoying life. Making changes to your lifestyle and taking an active part in your treatment plan will help you improve your health and your quality of life. These tips will help you adjust to living with heart failure.

Management and Treatment

Important Steps to Help Improve Your Heart Health

Take Your Medications

  • Take all your medications as directed
  • Create a system to remember to take your medications, such as:
  • Putting your medications by your toothbrush or water faucet.
  • Using a pill organizer.
  • Setting an alarm for the times you need to take your medications.

Follow a Low-Sodium Diet

  • Know your daily sodium limit: Ask your doctor or nurse.
  • Eat fresh foods whenever possible.
  • Avoid fast food restaurants.
  • Avoid the “salty six” (bread products, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, breaded meats and poultry or poultry with added sodium, prepared and canned soups, sandwiches with lunch meat and condiments).

Stay Active

  • Staying active is an important part of your care.
  • Physical activity keeps your muscles toned and conditioned.
  • Walk 5 days per week for 20-30 minutes. Walk at a pace faster than you do when doing normal activities.

Keep your Follow-Up Visits

  • See your heart failure doctor or nurse 2 times each year or more often if needed.
  • If you are in the hospital, it is important to see your healthcare provider 7 days and 30 days after you leave the hospital, even if you feel fine. Your doctor or nurse may want to make changes to your medications or have you enroll in a cardiac rehabilitation program

Track Your Symptoms

  • Know the common signs and symptoms of heart failure, including signs your condition is getting worse.
  • Keep track of your symptoms and note any changes.

Save Your Energy

Heart failure can make you more tired than usual and cause you to tire out more quickly. It is important to take steps to keep your energy level up.

Get enough rest. Make sure you get enough sleep at night (7-8 hours is best). You may also want to rest (not nap in bed) at least once a day. While you rest, put your feet up to control swelling in your legs and feet. You may need to take breaks before, during and after activities.

Keep it simple. You may need to change the way you do everyday activities. Try to cut back on some activities or break them into small tasks. If you have trouble meeting your basic self- or home-care needs, talk to your doctor about solutions.

Plan ahead. Take time to schedule your housework, exercise, and social activities so you can be prepared and rested. Don’t schedule too many things in one day. Plan activities at times you have the most energy, and avoid doing things right after you eat.

Ask for help. Talk to friends and family about ways they can help you with chores and errands. You can also talk to your doctor or nurse about helpful tools, like a walker, shower chair, hand-held shower head, bedside commode and items to help you dress yourself (shoe horn, sock donner, dressing stick). You may also want to work with an occupational or rehabilitation specialist.

Zippers and buttons. Choose clothes that have zippers and buttons in the front so you don’t have to reach to your back to get dressed.

Grooming and shaving. Sit while shaving, drying your hair and doing other grooming.

Stairs. If your doctor or nurse says it is all right, you may use stairs. Rest mid-way if you need to, and try to avoid multiple trips up and down.

Avoid heavy lifting. Do not push, pull or lift anything that weighs more than 10 pounds (a gallon of milk weighs about 8.6 pounds).

Living With

Travel Tips

  • Talk to your doctor or nurse about your travel plans and provide a number where you can be reached.
  • Make sure you have the phone number for your doctor or nurse.
  • Pack all your medications and make sure you have enough to last throughout your trip. Use the same reminder system as you do at home (pill organizer, alarm, etc).
  • When flying, always pack your medications in your carry-on luggage. You may need a letter from your doctor to verify your medications, especially if you travel internationally. This letter should go in with your medications.
  • Always wear your Emergency Medical Identification.
  • Be careful to avoid infection. If there is a risk of unsafe water, drink bottled water and order beverages without ice. Swim only in chlorinated pools.
  • Carefully choose food and drink. Stay on track with your sodium and fluid restrictions.

Work Life

If you have been in the hospital because of heart failure, your doctor or nurse will let you know when you can return to work. Your ability to work depends on your overall health, symptoms and how quickly you recover.Talk to your doctor about the kind of job you have and possible effects on your heart condition. You may need to make changes at work. It is best to return to work for as long as you are able.If you aren’t able to perform your normal job, you may want to consider training for a different position or taking time off for disability.Because heart failure is a chronic long-term illness, talk to your doctor and your family about your preferences for medical care. You can complete an advance directive or living will to let everyone involved in your care know your desires. A living will details the treatments you do or don’t want to prolong your life. It is a good idea to prepare a living will while you are well in case you aren’t able to make these decisions at a later time.


If you need more information:

Contact us, chat online with a nurse or call the Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Resource & Information Nurse at 216.445.9288 or toll-free at 866.289.6911. We would be happy to help you.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/10/2018.

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