When first hearing the diagnosis of Heart Failure, you may feel alarmed and frightened. Understanding the condition allows you to make informed decisions, feel better, and live longer. It is possible to lead a normal and happy life, even if you have Heart Failure. The term “Heart Failure” doesn’t mean that your heart has failed or stopped working! It just means it is not functioning as it should and cannot pump the blood efficiently to meet your body’s needs.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2022), over 4 million people in the United States live with Heart Failure, and over 500,000 cases are newly diagnosed each year. Your healthcare providers and physicians will provide you with a treatment plan and guidelines so you can manage your Heart Failure. It is up to you to follow it.
What is Heart Failure?
- Heart failure is a condition, not a disease.
- When diseases affect your heart’s ability to efficiently pump blood, the result is heart failure.
- Heart failure is the label used to describe a specific set of symptoms.
How is Heart Failure diagnosed?
- Health history
- Physical exam
- Chest X-Ray—to assess the shape and size of your heart and detect any fluid in your lungs.
- EKG—to assess your heart rhythm and locate any previous thickening of your heart muscle or damage to your heart.
- Blood test for brain natriuretic peptide (BNP)—BNP levels are higher than normal when you have heart failure.
Is There a Cure for Heart Failure?
In most cases, there is no cure for heart failure as it is a chronic condition; however, it can be effectively managed by practicing self-care, taking medications, and positively changing your lifestyle.
Accepting your Diagnosis
Don’t be surprised if you go through a wide range of emotions while trying to accept and understand what life will be like living with Heart Failure. Heart Failure can progress slowly and range from mild to severe. Individuals respond differently to treatment protocols. Managing your emotions and feelings is an essential part of your care.
The following are the normal emotional stages after being diagnosed with Heart Failure:
Stage One: Your initial reaction may be disbelief, shock, denial, or numbness. For a few weeks or even months, you may have difficulty accepting your condition. Being told you have heart failure is not an easy pill to swallow.
Stage Two: Adjusting to your diagnosis. It can be challenging to adapt to new routines and a new lifestyle. You may find yourself anxious, fearful, and even angry for up to a year. Questions such as “why?” and feelings of guilt that somehow you brought it on yourself are normal at first, and then you will start moving toward acceptance. You can live your life with hope and a renewed sense of purpose with a good support system.
Stage Three: New routines become a new way of life. With new habits and becoming more knowledgeable about your condition, you will start to feel calmer and peaceful about your condition. You may even feel better because you adjusted to life and feel new hope about the future.
Tending to your Emotional Health
It is understandable to have concerns about your future after being diagnosed with heart failure. Knowing your family is worried and adjusting to a new way of living can create anxiety and depression. Don’t be afraid to reach out for counseling. Doing positive activities like researching healthy heart nutrition or partaking in social activities will help you regain control of your life. With time, the negative feelings may fade. But, if they continue, make sure to talk to your doctor or mental health professional. A lot of Medicare plans cover this service, although some don’t. Take some time today to verify that your insurance covers the cost of mental health counseling.
Recognizing Anxiety and Depression
We all feel down in the dumps or anxious some of the time. But, when these feelings persist, and they begin to affect your ability to function or enjoy life, or you notice that your emotions are affecting those around you, seek the help of a trained professional.
Your feelings of fatigue, lethargy, or tiredness may not be due to heart failure but depression. People suffering from depression have trouble sleeping and eating and may lose interest in sexual activities.
Often, individuals feel a sense of shame put forth from society or family upbringing regarding mental health issues. Unfortunately, social stigmas regarding anxiety and depression are still alive and well in the United States. As a result, people avoid talking about it or seeking help, and the condition worsens.
It is nothing to be ashamed of. Few people would not feel a sense of anxiety and depression after receiving a diagnosis of heart failure. Reaching out for help when feeling blue is a sign of self-care. It is the responsible thing to do.
If you have any of the following symptoms for more than ten days, you may be depressed:
- Excessive sleepiness
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Suicidal thinking
- Preoccupation with death
- Feeling down or blue
- Feeling Irritable
- Loss of interest in hobbies or things you used to enjoy
You may be anxious if you have any of the following symptoms for more than ten days:
- Constant worry
- Feeling on the edge or keyed up
- Shaky or tremulous
- Feeling restless
Tips to Help you Cope with Anxiety and/or Depression
- Make your bed each morning
- Get up and get dressed
- Going for walks on a daily basis. Get out and walk every day
- Share your feelings with close friends and family members
- Go to bed at a decent hour
- Eat a nutritious breakfast
- Cut down on caffeine
- Follow your treatment plan
Conserve your Energy
Conserving your energy with your activities of daily living (ADLs) will give you more energy to do the things you love. You may have to start using some assistive devices and cut down on some chores that are proving to be too exhausting.
Here are some tips on how to conserve your energy:
- Plan out your exercise, recreation, and chores ahead of time. Make a daily planner. Schedule the tasks that take the most energy at the time of the day when you usually feel most energized. Don’t overschedule!
- Set realistic goals and tasks for yourself.
- Take frequent rest breaks and tell yourself, “that’s okay.”
- Keep your feet elevated when resting to minimize swelling.
- Rest after each meal.
- Divide household chores among your family members.
- Use assistive devices such as a walker, electric recliner, shower chair, hand-held shower head, etc.
- Practice healthy sleeping habits.
- Do your grooming while sitting, such as blow-drying your hair, shaving.
- Arrange your tasks to minimize any trips up and down the stairs.
- Avoid extreme physical activities.
- Many insurance companies cover the cost of an occupational therapist when ordered by your doctor. Occupational therapists have many helpful techniques for people who have heart failure.
- Speak to a cardiac conditioning specialist.
Heart failure is a severe and chronic condition. A heart failure diagnosis is manageable with a change in lifestyle and medications. How effectively you manage your heart failure depends on how involved you get with your treatment. Following the advice of your healthcare professionals and staying updated with the newest treatment can help prevent your heart failure from worsening and help you live longer.