Small changes can improve symptoms, and give you time for what matters most.
Your body and your heart can often respond to effects of heart failure (HF) so that you never notice any symptoms. Your heart compensates for added strain by working harder. However, as heart failure worsens, your body can gradually become less able to keep up. When a situation worsens by small degrees over time, you may not even notice the trend. Your sense for what’s normal may be altered.
That’s why it’s important to know the symptoms of HF, and take note of any subtle changes in your body’s ability to compensate. Make sure your family members are aware of heart failure symptoms too, especially if they are involved in your heart failure care.
Don’t miss or brush off the signs that you should call your healthcare provider. In many instances, your medical team can make changes to your medication or advise you on lifestyle changes that can help you feel better.
Heart failure requires that you, your family and any caregivers pay close attention to any changes in your symptoms. If you notice anything new, or a sudden worsening of a current symptom, contact your doctor right away.
Also, learn to recognize the signs of a heart attack.
Which symptoms should I track?
Your healthcare team will tell you which heart failure symptoms you should track. The most common symptoms to track are:
- Any shortness of breath and any worsening in your ability to do your regular activities.
- Your heart rate To make up for the loss in pumping ability, your heart may start to beat faster. This can lead to heart palpitations. You may feel like your heart is racing or throbbing.
- Daily weight Many people are first alerted to worsening heart failure when they notice a weight gain of more than two or three pounds in a 24-hour period or more than five pounds in a week.
It’s a good idea to track your weight and check in with your doctor if you notice sudden changes. Make sure you know the amount of weight gain your healthcare provider considers to be a problem for you.
- Any swelling from fluids collecting in your body – most often in the ankles, lower legs and feet – and especially if you notice any increase in swelling.
- Blood pressure It’s important to track blood pressure and to know your numbers.
- Confusion or impaired thinking Changes in the makeup of your blood, such as the amount of sodium (too much) or oxygen (too little), can result in confusion or changes to your mental state.
You may have some memory loss or worsening symptoms of depression or sadness, which may be related to changes in your body’s ability to compensate for the heart failure. These symptoms may be first noticed by others in your family, so it may be helpful to invite their feedback.
- Other factors You may also be asked to keep track of other factors, such as appetite, diuretic (“water pill”) use or your ability to sleep. If you have been prescribed oxygen, your doctor may ask you to track how much oxygen you use.
The benefits of tracking
When you’re aware of the changes, you are more likely to take action and make the small changes in your lifestyle and treatment plan that can help you live your longest and healthiest life.