Heart health

How to manage your heart failure by Dr. Nitin Shori

Dr. Nitin Shori is a GP with the NHS and Pharmacy2U, an online service which provides free, fast and convenient delivery of NHS repeat prescriptions.

Managing Heart Failure

Living with heart failure is a reality for millions of Brits. Heart failure does not actually mean that your heart has failed but it’s a serious condition that means your heart is not pumping blood around your body very efficiently. It’s a long-term condition, but with the right treatment plan symptoms can be kept under control for many years. From lifestyle changes to medication, here are some commonly asked questions and tips on managing the condition so patients can lead the best, fullest life possible. 

Is it safe to exercise with heart failure? 
It’s important to stay as active as possible. Although common sense says for those who are unwell to “take it easy”, the opposite can sometimes be true for someone with heart failure. Withdrawing from activity can mean that the rest of the body loses its resilience and ends up becoming as weak as the heart. Research conducted by the British Heart Foundation has shown the value of regular, deliberate, physical exercise in heart failure – this not only reduces everyday symptoms but seems to prevent sudden deterioration and even deaths. Take breaks as needed, but it is the regular activity is key in maintaining overall strength. Find your own pace and something you enjoy – even walking a dog on a daily basis can work wonders. 

Dog walking ‘is good exercise’

What should I do if I get a new symptom?
Report any new symptoms to a doctor or nurse – the earlier action is taken, the better the outcome can be. For example, catching a build-up of excess fluid early can prevent hospital admission. New treatments are now available for some cases of heart failure like the Cardiac Resynchronisation Therapy (CRT) pacemaker which can be implanted to restore coordination of the heart chambers when they contract. These devices have had real success in improving health and survival supported by British Heart Foundation research. Although they’re not right for everyone, it’s worth talking to your specialist if you feel like your current treatments aren’t working.

Watching your weight is a good idea  
Keep an eye on your weight as even an increase of 1kg can be significant; it can signal that excess fluid is building up. If you’ve been told to restrict fluid intake, stick to the limit. Some doctors encourage patients to increase their own diuretics (or ‘water tablets’) when they notice rapid weight gain. This can be useful during times when your GP surgery is closed.

What medication is available for heart failure? 
There’s a wide range of medication available to help manage the symptoms of heart failure and often patients will need to take a combination. Some of the most common ones include ACE inhibitors (drugs ending in “pril”) and beta-blockers (drugs ending in “olol”). It’s really important to take the medications you’ve been prescribed, but if you think you’re experiencing side effects, talk to your specialist nurse or doctor. With several on the go, it can be tricky to manage your medications, so it’s always worth considering services like Pharmacy2U. Both online and through an app, the service provides convenient delivery of repeat prescription medication and reminders when you’re due to run out.  

Remove salt from your diet
Too much salt in your diet can increase blood pressure and fluid retention, but that doesn’t mean flavour needs to lose out. Experiment with herbs and spices and you never know what you might discover. Although useful, the traffic light system on food packaging can sometimes be misleading – make sure you check whether the salt content is per portion or per pack!

Dr. Nitin Shori is a GP with the NHS and Pharmacy2U, an online service which provides free, fast and convenient delivery of NHS repeat prescriptions

Dr Nitin Shori By Dr Nitin Shori Medical Director Published 25/07/2019