Getting a diagnosis of congestive heart failure (CHF) is difficult and often alarming, but the good news is that people can live happy, fulfilling lives in spite of it.
If you’re bringing home a family member who’s been discharged from the hospital after a CHF diagnosis, it can feel like a huge responsibility to take on. But you’re not alone. Over 5 million people live with CHF, many of whom are able to be at home relying on family members as caregivers.
And with the procedures doctors have honed over time, combined with new technologies like remote patient monitoring and video or telehealth calls, even heart failure patients living alone can take care of themselves.
Either way, the experience is likely to spark questions. Below are some of the most common. But be sure to contact your doctor if you need further help. It’s not unusual for patients to feel they are bothering their physician, but that’s what they’re there for.
What does it mean to have congestive heart failure?
CHF is a bit of a misnomer since your heart has not actually stopped working but has slowed down. As a result, it’s unable to pump enough blood into all areas of your body. Veins can get backed up, with blood creating congestion that causes swelling in the lungs, stomach, legs, and ankles.
This congestion in body tissues can cause a number of symptoms, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent cough or wheezing
- Trouble breathing while lying down
- Nausea or complete lack of appetite
- Recent fluid build-up
How do I treat heart failure at home?
When CHF patients are discharged from the hospital, their families can feel overwhelmed by the requirements of their care. Home care can be especially difficult when the patient suffers from multiple chronic conditions.
And while it’s true CHF can create serious problems if the condition is not treated on a daily basis, these treatments are manageable at home. They include:
- Checking vital signs daily. Weight and blood pressure readings help patients, and their doctors stay abreast of changes that could signal a treatable decline.
Weight gain can indicate a build-up of fluid, in which case you should contact your doctor immediately.
And high blood pressure puts a strain on your heart. Your doctor can recommend an easy-to-use blood pressure monitor.
In some cases, doctors recommend remote patient monitoring, which allows you to input your daily vitals check into a computer app. This app automatically transmits the data to your provider’s office, where staff continuously monitor their patients’ status.
- Closely following your doctor’s instructions with medications. Be sure to take your medicine exactly as directed every day.
A simple regimen of reminders, either in your calendar, in the form of a note on the refrigerator, or setting an alarm on your phone, can help. Remote patient monitoring programs can also be programmed to automatically remind you.
- Incorporating healthy lifestyle changes. Simple modifications to your daily routines support better circulation, minimize additional health risks, and help reduce symptoms.
For example, dressing in loose clothing reduces the restriction in blood flow that can cause clots. This is especially important in your extremities. For that reason, avoiding socks with a tight band at the top is important. Also, wearing layers that can be easily added or removed helps avoid extremes in body temperature.
Adopting a heart-healthy diet is another key lifestyle change. That means reducing salt-intake and eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. Other heart-healthy options include whole grains, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products, and skinless poultry and fish.
- Managing your stress. The American Heart Association notes the value of meditation and managing anger by counting to 10 before responding to a situation.
Good sleep habits are another key stress reduction strategy. Since CHF is linked to sleep-disordered breathing, it’s important to keep track of snoring and report problems to your doctor.
Where can I get help?
Your doctor’s office will provide a thorough treatment plan that will get you off to a good start. It will guide you through the various health conditions or problems your may encounter, along with a corresponding list of actions to take. Of course, never hesitate to contact your physician if you are unsure about any aspect of at-home care.
For patients with multiple chronic conditions, there’s a lot to manage. This was the case for Elena C., a CHF patient in her 60s who also needed to manage her diabetes and HIV. On her doctor’s recommendation, she began working with a home health care agency. Clinicians followed up with her regularly, explaining how to detect the difference between warning signs that require an ER visit and symptoms that just need a phone call follow-up from her doctor.
As a result, Elena and her family get daily reassurance and confidence that she is getting the care she needs at home.
While heart failure can’t be cured, an effective home health care program that supports a more active lifestyle, positive dietary changes, stress management, and careful attention to your doctor’s treatment plan can slow the progress of the disease and allow you to enjoy life at home.