Heart Failure: Care Instructions

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Heart failure occurs when your heart does not pump as much blood as the body needs. Failure does not mean that the heart has stopped pumping but rather that it is not pumping as well as it should. Over time, this causes fluid buildup in your lungs and other parts of your body. Fluid buildup can cause shortness of breath, fatigue, swollen ankles, and other problems. Heart failure is treated with medicines, a heart-healthy lifestyle, and the steps you take to check your symptoms. Treatment can slow the disease, help you feel better, and help keep you out of the hospital. Treatment may also help you live longer.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?


  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes. Medicines can help your heart work better, help you feel better, and help keep you out of the hospital. Medicines may also help you live longer.
  • Talk with your doctor or pharmacist before you take a new prescription or over-the-counter medicine. Ask if the medicine is safe for you to take. Some medicines can affect your heart and make heart failure worse. Others may keep your heart failure medicines from working right. Over-the-counter medicines that you may need to avoid include herbal supplements, vitamins, pain relievers called NSAIDs, antacids, laxatives, and cough, cold, flu, or sinus medicine.


  • Eat heart-healthy foods. These foods include vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains.
  • Your doctor may suggest that you limit sodium. Your doctor can tell you how much sodium is right for you. An example is less than 3,000 mg a day. This includes all the salt you eat in cooking or in packaged foods. People get most of their sodium from processed foods. Fast food and restaurant meals also tend to be very high in sodium.
  • Limit your fluid intake if your doctor tells you to. Your doctor will tell you how much fluid you can have in a day.


  • Weigh yourself without clothing at the same time each day. Record your weight. Call your doctor if you have a sudden weight gain, such as more than 2 to 3 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week. (Your doctor may suggest a different range of weight gain.) A sudden weight gain may mean that your heart failure is getting worse.
  • Check your symptoms every day to watch for changes. Know what to do if your symptoms get worse.


  • Be active. Do not start to exercise until you have talked with your doctor. Together you can make an exercise program that is enjoyable and safe for you. Regular exercise can make your heart and your body stronger. Being active can help you feel better too.
  • With your doctor, plan how often, how long, and how hard you will be active. Don't exercise too hard because it can put stress on your heart.
  • If your doctor has not set you up with a cardiac rehabilitation (rehab) program, ask if it's right for you. Cardiac rehab can give you education and support that help you stay as healthy as possible.
  • When you exercise, watch for signs that your heart is working too hard. You are pushing yourself too hard if you cannot talk while you are exercising. If you become short of breath or dizzy or have chest pain, stop, sit down, and rest.

Heart-healthy lifestyle

  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make a heart condition worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good. Quitting smoking may be the most important step you can take to protect your heart.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
  • Manage other health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol. Ask your doctor how much alcohol, if any, is safe for you.
  • If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drug use, talk to your doctor.
  • Avoid infections such as COVID-19, colds, and the flu. Get the flu vaccine every year. Get a pneumococcal vaccine shot. If you have had one before, ask your doctor whether you need another dose. Stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 if you have symptoms of sudden heart failure such as:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You cough up pink, foamy mucus.
  • You have a new irregular or rapid heartbeat.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or increased shortness of breath.
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have sudden weight gain, such as more than 2 to 3 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week. (Your doctor may suggest a different range of weight gain.)
  • You have increased swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet.
  • You are suddenly so tired or weak that you cannot do your usual activities.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you develop new symptoms.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.