February is Heart Month. Let’s address heart failure – a condition where the heart does not work well in pumping blood throughout the body.

Heart Month: Careful treatment for heart failure

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It’s February and as most of us know, it is Heart Month, recognized by The American Heart Association. It is good to understand the care of our heart and vascular system because so much of it is in our hands with lifestyle choices.

Let’s address heart failurea condition where the heart does not work well in pumping blood throughout the body. It is a very serious condition affecting over six million Americans, with 900,000 people diagnosed each year.

There are numerous symptoms that should bring you into the doctor pronto:

  • Fluid retention, often with swollen ankles.
  • Fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • A chronic or persistent cough.

There are a few risk factors for heart failure, including:

  • Having had a previous heart attack.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Coronary artery disease.

So what to do if you have been diagnosed with heart failure?

  • Get into a cardiac rehabilitation program, if you can, to learn more about heart disease and how to safely exercise within your physical limitations.
  • Take the medications that your cardiologist has prescribed.
  • Since a diuretic or fluid pill might be prescribed to help relieve fluid retention, be sure to eat high potassium foods to compensate for the potassium that will be excreted in your urine. Good potassium sources include fruit such as bananas and melons; white and sweet potatoes, greens and legumes.
  • Watch the excess sodium and salt to help kept down that excess fluid – so no salt shaker and more importantly, prepare more meals at home from scratch. And be careful with frequency of dining out – you’ll probably get more salt.
  • Go easy on alcohol intake.
  • Of course, no smoking.
  • Weigh yourself regularly to be sure that there is not a large weight gain from one day to the next because it indicates that you are retaining fluid.

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.