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Heart failure

Stay healthy and out of the hospital


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For many people, winter means a busy holiday season, gatherings centered on food and weather outside that’s frightful. If you have heart failure, don’t let these factors foul your plans to stay healthy. Take good care of yourself so you can enjoy the season to the fullest.

Help your heart

"Heart failure means your heart does not pump blood as well or doesn’t relax well between beats, so your heart is always under strain," explained Steven Bergeson, MD, medical director for quality at Allina Health. "It’s a serious illness. But people with heart failure can feel better and do better by taking simple steps."

  • Take medicines each day as prescribed. Let your doctor know if you aren’t sure how, when or why to take your medicines, or if you have trouble taking or affording them.
  • Limit salt to 1,500 milligrams each day. When you eat too much sodium, your body retains water. Then your heart has to work harder to move blood.
  • Stay as active as possible. Daily aerobic exercise, like walking, can improve how well your heart pumps. Ask your doctor how much exercise you can do.
  • Avoid medicines that can make you retain water. These include naproxen and ibuprofen.

What if there's a problem?

Weighing yourself every day is one good way to know whether your heart failure is getting worse — so you can do something about it right away. “If you gain 3 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week, that’s a warning sign,” said Bergeson.

Other important signs are getting more short of breath when you lie down or when you’re active, feeling fullness in your belly and losing your appetite.

"When warning signs appear, do you know what to do?" said Bergeson. "If your doctor told you when and how to adjust your medicines, follow that plan. Otherwise, call your doctor for advice. You and your doctor need to work as a team."

Call 911 if you are:

  • struggling to breathe, even when you sit still
  • having chest pain
  • feeling confused or not thinking clearly.

Heart-smart resources from Allina

For a home exercise program, menu plans and more, go to, where you’ll also find the Quick Guide to Managing Heart Failure. To request a FREE printed copy of the guide, or to order the 130-page Heart Failure manual for $4.25, call Allina Patient Education at 612-262-6069 or email

Content Source: Healthy Communities, Winter 2011
Review Date: 11/10/2011
Reviewed By: Healthy Communities, Winter 2011

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 9-1-1 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only—they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites.