You are here:

Heart failure diagnosis: Tools for positive outcomes

Photo: Thinkstock

A safe goal for people with mild to moderate symptoms is a 15-to-30-minute session of aerobic exercise three to five times a week..

Don’t get scared. Be proactive by improving diet, exercising, and tracking your symptoms.

When the doctor says you have heart failure, it’s natural to become frightened. “Most patients are very scared, and that is understandable; failure is never a good word,” says cardiologist Dr. Deepak Bhatt, a professor at Harvard Medical School and editor in chief of the Harvard Heart Letter.

The condition isn’t a complete failure of the heart. Instead, the heart struggles to pump enough oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. This can be deadly if untreated. Be proactive by reading the Harvard Medical School Special Health Report Diagnosis: Heart Failure (available at and by following these steps:

Be a good patient

Taking all of your medications as directed is most important to living with heart failure. Today’s medicines for heart failure are much more effective than those available even 30 years ago: they can truly be lifesaving.

Track your symptoms

Record your weight at the same each day, and compare it to your weight without excess fluid buildup. Call your doctor if you gain 2 or more pounds in a day or 4 pounds in a week; fluid retention can indicate that heart failure is getting worse. Also note if you have shortness of breath, swelling, or fatigue each day, and call your doctor if new symptoms develop.

Get regular exercise

Physical activity can improve the heart’s pumping strength and slow heart failure damage. With a doctor’s okay, a safe goal for people with mild to moderate symptoms is a 15- to 30-minute session of aerobic exercise three to five times a week. Begin exercising at 40% to 60% of your capacity for periods of two to six minutes, with rest periods of one to two minutes in between. As endurance builds, the sessions of continuous exercise can be extended to up to 30 minutes.

Watch your diet

“A weekend of too many potato chips can land you in the emergency department,” warns Dr. Bhatt. Limit sodium intake to approximately 2,000 milligrams per day. Limit your fluid intake to 2 liters per day; too much liquid can work against your medications. Also, eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean proteins.

Don’t fixate on EF

Your EF is your ejection fraction, the volume of blood your heart pumps out in one beat. It varies widely, though 55% to 60% is normal (not 100%, as many people mistakenly assume). “An ejection fraction of 20% is very low, but some people with such a low EF are completely asymptomatic and others are bedridden,” says Dr. Bhatt.

Posted by: Dr.Health

Back to Top