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American Heart Month: Tips for Living With Congestive Heart Failure (2017)

February 21, 2017

While February is known for being the month of love thanks to Valentine’s Day, February also marks American Heart Month – a time for all of us to take a look at our heart health and make lifestyle changes to keep it strong.

Unfortunately, for one reason or another, there are many people who have already experienced heart troubles, and are possibly in a maintenance program. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there are approximately 5.7 million people in the United States living with a broken heart… and we’re not talking about the people who didn’t post a tribute to their significant other on Facebook on February 14. We’re talking about people living with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF).

According to a report from the American Heart Association, not only is heart disease the leading cause of death in this country, but heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalizations among adults 65 and over. Each year, 1 million patients are newly diagnosed, costing Medicare $17 billion.

To complicate things further, approximately half of all newly diagnosed patients are readmitted to the hospital within six months of discharge… and 24 percent within one month. So what can be done about this epidemic? Of course, the first and most important step is prevention. But what about those already afflicted? How can they help ensure they aren’t back in a hospital bed weeks after diagnosis?

Concordia Visiting Nurses has worked with CHF sufferers for years now, and has even established a CHF disease management program. And we’re proud to report that CHF patients who participate in our program are much less likely to be readmitted to the hospital within the first month of diagnosis (only 11.4 percent, actually).

Here are a few tips for people living with CHF (in addition to what's in the video above). As always, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before making any changes to your diet, exercise schedule or lifestyle.

1. Monitor your symptoms closely: If you are living with CHF, you know the main symptoms are swollen legs/feet/ankles, persistent cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, rapid weight gain (2 pounds in one day or 5 pounds in one week), confusion and poor appetite. If you notice that any of your symptoms are changing, contact your doctor, nurse or other healthcare provider immediately.

2. Utilize telehealth monitoring: The Veterans Health Administration and a couple other agencies participated in a telehealth pilot program in 2010, and 85 percent of patients using telehealth monitoring systems reported greater satisfaction, and had 40 percent fewer days in the hospital. At CVN, we install telehealth monitors in our CHF patients’ homes, which check your weight, oxygen level, vital signs, etc.

3. Journal your “offline” activities: Telehealth monitors are excellent tools, but they show a pretty one-dimensional view of your health. To make sure you have a well-rounded perspective, create food and exercise journals. This way, if you do have a symptom flare up, you and your healthcare provider can reference the journals to see if a correlation exists.

4. Save your energy: People with CHF know that energy is a limited commodity, so make sure you save it for when you need it. Try to adapt certain activities – showering, prepping meals, putting on makeup, shaving, etc. – to do them seated, instead of standing. Also, try to plan your activities each day (building in 4-5 rests per day) and be sure to wait for 1 hour after meals to do activities.

Living with CHF can be a challenge, but the program established at Concordia Visiting Nurses helps put patients on a pathway to success. CHF can be controlled with diet, exercise, medication and positive health habits – all of which are addressed in the program (and more).

If you have any questions about CHF, or if you have questions about home health care in general, call Concordia Visiting Nurses at 1-877-352-6200 or e-mail us through the Contact form on our website 24 hours a day. And as usual, feel free to leave a comment below.

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