Heart failure - what to ask your doctor
What to ask your doctor about heart failure; HF - what to ask your doctor
Your heart is a pump that moves blood through your body. Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet your body's demands. As a result, blood does not move well and fluid builds up in places in your body that it should not. Most often, fluid collects in your lungs and legs. Heart failure most often occurs because your heart muscle is weak. However, it can happen for other reasons as well.
Below are some questions you may want to ask your health care provider to help you take care of your heart failure.
If you cough a lot, often feel weak, have lost your appetite, and need to urinate a lot at night, you might have symptoms of heart failure. Heart failure is a long-term condition that usually comes on slowly. However, it can develop suddenly, for instance, after a heart attack. You have heart failure when your heart does not pump blood out of your heart very well, or when your heart muscles are stiff and do not easily fill up with blood. When you have heart failure, your heart cannot pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body, especially when you exercise or move around a lot. As the heart loses the ability to pump blood, blood backs up in other parts of your body, including your lungs, liver, gastrointestinal tract, and your arms and legs. The most common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease, the narrowing of the blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to your heart. So, how do you know if you have heart failure? Get to your doctor. You may have trouble breathing, an irregular heartbeat, swollen legs, neck veins that stick out, and sounds from fluid built up in your lungs. Your doctor will check for these and other signs of heart failure. A test called an echocardiogram is often the best test to diagnose your heart failure. Your doctor can also use this test to find out why you have heart failure, and then monitor your condition going forward every three to six months. Your doctor will talk to you about knowing your body and symptoms that mean your heart failure is getting worse. You will need to learn to watch for changes in your heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, and weight. You will also need to limit salt in your diet, stop drinking alcohol, quit smoking if you need to, exercise, lose weight if you need to, and get enough rest. Your doctor will probably ask you to take medicines to treat your heart failure. These medicines can treat your symptoms, prevent your heart failure from getting worse, and help you live longer. If you have heart failure, taking your medicines, changing your lifestyle, and treating the condition that caused heart failure can go a long way toward improving your health. But heart failure is a chronic, or long-term, illness, which means it may get worse over time. Make sure you call your doctor if you start coughing more, have sudden weight gain or swelling, or feel week. Have someone take you to the emergency room right away if you have trouble with fainting, a fast and irregular heartbeat, or feel severe crushing chest pain.
What kinds of heath checks do I need to do at home and how do I do them?
- How do I check my pulse and blood pressure?
- How should I check my weight?
- When should I do these checks?
- What supplies do I need?
- How should I keep track of my blood pressure, weight, and pulse?
What are the signs and symptoms that my heart failure is getting worse? Will I always have the same symptoms?
- What should I do if my weight goes up? If my legs swell up? If I feel more short of breath? If my clothes feel tight?
- What are the signs and symptoms that I am having angina or a heart attack?
- When should I call the provider? When should I call 911 or the local emergency number?
What medicines am I taking to treat heart failure?
- Do they have any side effects?
- What should I do if I miss a dose?
- Is it ever safe to stop taking any of these medicines on my own?
- What over-the-counter medicines are not compatible with my regular medicines?
How much activity or exercise can I do?
- Which activities are better to start with?
- Are there activities or exercises that are not safe for me?
- Is it safe for me to exercise on my own?
Do I need to go to a cardiac rehabilitation program?
Are there limits on what I can do at work?
What should I do if I feel sad or very worried about my heart disease?
How can I change the way I live to make my heart stronger?
- How much water or fluid can I drink every day? How much salt can I eat? What are other types of seasoning I can use instead of salt?
- What is a heart-healthy diet? Is it ever OK to eat something that is not heart-healthy? What are some ways to eat healthy when I go to a restaurant?
- Is it OK to drink alcohol? How much is OK?
- Is it OK to be around other people who are smoking?
- Is my blood pressure normal? What is my cholesterol, and do l need to take medicines for it?
- Is it OK to be sexually active? Is it safe to use sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), or tadalafil (Cialis) for erection problems?
Januzzi JL, Mann DL. Approach to the patient with heart failure. In: Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Bhatt DL, Solomon SD, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine.12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 48.
Mcmurray JJV, Pfeffer MA. Heart failure: management and prognosis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 53.
Rasmusson K, Flattery M, Baas LS. American association of heart failure nurses position paper on educating patients with heart failure. Heart Lung. 2015;44(2):173-177. PMID: 25649810
Last reviewed on: 1/1/2023
Reviewed by: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.