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Heart Failure

Heart Failure: Frequently Asked Questions

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 09:46

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Here are some frequently asked questions related to heart failure.

Q: My brother was just diagnosed with heart failure. How can he continue his normal activities if his heart has failed?

A: Heart failure does not mean that your brother's heart has failed. It simply means his heart is not working as efficiently as it should, and is unable to pump oxygen-rich blood adequately to all parts of the body. Heart failure is serious, but it is a treatable condition.

Q: I find that I often get short of breath, and not just when I'm exercising. I'm breathless when I'm simply sitting down and relaxing, and it's even worse if I lie down. I thought I might have a lung problem, but my doctor wants me to have tests for my heart. Why?

A: There are many conditions that can cause breathlessness, some of which have to do with your heart, not your lungs. Your doctor probably wants to check for heart failure, a condition that can lead to fluid buildup in the lungs and other parts of the body. Breathlessness when you lie down is called orthopnea, and occurs when fluid buildup kept in your legs by gravity moves to your lungs; it is another symptom of heart failure.

Q: I'm taking a diuretic for my heart failure, and my doctor has prescribed a potassium supplement. Is there any way I can get more potassium from my diet so I don’t have to take a pill?

A: Diuretics can cause a potassium deficiency in the body. Potassium comes from bananas, melons, dried fruits, and leafy green vegetables such as kale. Stocking up on these healthy foods is a good idea and will help replenish the potassium in your body. However, don’t stop taking your supplement without first talking with your doctor.

Q: I've been taking medication for my heart failure for a few months, and I feel fine now. When can I stop taking the medicine?

A: Heart failure is a condition that can be successfully managed, but you may have to stay on medication for the rest of your life. If you stop taking your medicine, chances are your heart will not work as efficiently and your symptoms will return. Take the fact that you are feeling better as a sign that you are taking good care of yourself, and keep doing exactly what you’re doing now-including taking your medication. Don’t make any changes to your dosage without talking with your doctor.

Q: Is it okay to exercise if I have heart failure?

A: In most cases, exercise can help people manage heart failure successfully. It strengthens the heart and improves circulation, and also helps you lose weight so your heart doesn't have to work so hard. A good exercise to start with is walking. You may only be able to walk half a block at first-don’t push yourself. Try to go a bit further each week, and take it one day at time. Also, be sure to consult with your doctor before starting an exercise routine.

Q: My mother has heart failure, and her doctor told her to be careful not to drink too much water. I thought water was good for you. Why can't she drink as much as she wants?

A: Water is good for you, and it's important to stay hydrated. However, too much fluid in the body can be bad for heart failure sufferers, because it increases blood volume and makes the heart work harder. Your mother can drink water, however, she should measure her fluid intake carefully and follow her doctor's recommendation. Remember that fluid intake includes soups, sherbet, juice, and other liquids. If your mother is feeling unusually thirsty or is having trouble staying within her recommended fluid intake, talk with her doctor.

Heart Failure