Complications and heart failure

Heart failure increases the risk of a number of other health issues, including kidney and liver damage. It can also increase the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat or heart valve problems.

If you’ve been diagnosed with heart failure, it means that your heart is no longer pumping blood as strongly throughout your body. Heart failure may begin on the left or right side of the heart.

There are a few types of heart failure. Left-sided heart failure is more common, and includes systolic and diastolic. Both types increase the risk of the same kinds of complications. For example, a common complication of left-sided heart failure is right-sided heart failure.

If you’re living with heart failure, you can take steps to reduce your risk of related complications. Sticking with your treatment plan and making healthy lifestyle changes are good places to start.

Read on to learn more about lowering your chances of experiencing complications and simple tips for managing heart failure.

One of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of heart failure complications is to get started on your doctor’s recommended treatment plan — and stick with it.

When your condition is well-managed, it’s less likely to worsen. You’ll also likely feel better when you’re taking your medications as prescribed and following your doctor’s guidance.

It can be a challenge to remember to take your medications every day or to manage the costs of treatment. In fact, a 2013 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that among 178,102 heart failure patients in the United States, just 52 percent took their medications regularly.

If you’re facing financial barriers to treatment, let your doctor know. They may be able to offer a comparable treatment that’s less expensive. If you have trouble remembering to take your medications, try to set a daily alarm or ask family or friends to help you remember.

When you have heart failure, managing your condition and health can feel like a lot of work. A smartphone app can help you keep track of your medications, appointments, symptoms, and your state of mind. The Heart Failure Society of America has a free app called Heart Failure Storylines, and there are many others too.

A 2018 study reviewed 18 previous reports on mobile health apps for heart failure. The study authors noted a general trend that suggested the apps made a difference to people who used them. They also reported that the apps were cost-effective and promoted people being engaged in their own care.

Making heart-healthy food choices is an important aspect of managing heart failure. Your doctor may recommend that you see a dietitian to help you find a meal plan that works for you.

Two widely recommended diets for people living with heart failure are the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) plan and the Mediterranean diet.

A 2017 review indicated that both diets, and especially the DASH plan, might be helpful for people with heart failure. The authors recommended further research on the Mediterranean diet, and noted that the DASH plan may provide benefits such as improved cardiac function.

If you don’t want to stick to a specific diet, another option is to focus on making heart-healthy choices on a regular basis. The American Heart Association (AHA) advises people to follow a couple key principles.

In general, you’ll want to focus on:

  • Limiting certain foods and items. Make an effort to cut back on sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sugar. It’s best to avoid trans fats altogether.
  • Choose highly nutritious foods. Aim to include simple, wholesome foods in your meals, such as vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains. Stick to low-fat or no-fat dairy products.

Your doctor may advise you to treat exercise as part of your overall plan to manage heart failure. Talk to your doctor about the right level of exercise for you, and how you can get started. Depending on your condition, they may recommend a cardiac rehabilitation program.

For many people, a great exercise for getting started is simply walking. You can build up gradually, walking for longer periods of time and at a quicker pace as your fitness level improves. If you’re finding moderate activity difficult, let your doctor know and see what they suggest.

Surprisingly, some programs might use high intensity interval training (HIIT). This form of exercise alternates very intense cardio exercise with short breaks.

A 2018 study found HIIT does help heart failure patients, and it’s best when combined with more traditional exercise approaches. Don’t try this approach without discussing it with your doctor first.

With heart failure, being in emotional distress can make it harder to stay healthy. The Cleveland Clinic notes that stress and depression may increase your risk of cardiac events, such as chest pain and heart attack. But having heart failure can be stressful in itself, and may actually lead people to feel depressed.

If you’ve been experiencing difficult emotions, anxiety, or stress, talk to your doctor. They may be able to advise you about mental health services in your area. You can also look for a therapist or other mental health professional on your own.

Seeking emotional support from the people in your life is important, too. Reach out to friends and family, and let them know you’d like to talk. You might also consider looking for a support group. The AHA offers a place to start with their online support network.

The complications of heart failure can be serious, and some are life-threatening. That’s why it’s so important to take steps to reduce your risk of experiencing them.

Some of the most common complications include:

  • Irregular heartbeat. An irregular heartbeat, also known as an arrhythmia, can cause your heart to beat faster or at a less efficient rhythm. In turn, this can lead your blood to pool and form blood clots. This can be life-threatening if they lead to stroke, heart attack, or pulmonary embolism.
  • Heart valve issues. Heart failure can change the size of your heart and place pressure on the four valves that move blood in and out of it. These changes can impact how well the valves work.
  • Kidney damage. Reduced blood flow to your kidneys can damage them and even cause them to fail. In the most serious cases, people may need dialysis.
  • Liver damage. Heart failure puts more pressure on the liver, which can cause scarring and affect how it functions.

Taking action to reduce your risk of complications from heart failure is an important part of managing your health. Sticking with your treatment plan, following a heart-healthy diet, getting exercise, and caring for your emotional health can all make a difference. If you’re concerned about heart failure complications, talk to your doctor to learn more about what you can do to reduce your risk.