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Discharge Instructions for Heart Failure

You have been diagnosed with heart failure. The term "heart failure" sounds scary because it suggests the heart is no longer working. But, it actually means the heart isn't doing its job as well as it should. Heart failure happens when your heart muscle can't keep up with your body's need for blood flow. Symptoms of heart failure can be controlled by changes in your lifestyle and by following your doctor's advice.

Home care


Ask your health care provider about an exercise program. You can benefit from simple activities such as walking or gardening. Exercising most days of the week can make you feel better. Don't be discouraged if your progress is slow at first. Rest as needed and stop activity if you develop symptoms such as chest pain, lightheadedness, or significant shortness of breath.


Follow a heart healthy diet and work hard to decrease sodium (salt) in your diet. Try to limit total salt/sodium intake to 2400 mg a day. Depending on your situation, your health care provider may tell you to reduce your sodium intake even more. Salt causes your body to retain water, which can make it harder for your heart to pump. You can start limiting salt by doing the following:

  • Limit canned, dried, packaged, and fast foods.

  • Don't add salt to your food at the table.

  • Season foods with herbs instead of salt when you cook.

Reduce your fluid intake. Drinking too much fluid can make heart failure worse. It is commonly advised to limit total fluid intake to less than 66 ounces (2 liters) per day.

Limit alcohol. Too much alcohol can be harmful to the heart. Alcohol should be limited to no more than one serving a day for women and two servings a day for men.


If you smoke, you'll need to quit. Smoking increases your chances of having a heart attack, which makes heart failure worse. Quitting smoking is the number one thing you can do to improve your health. Enroll in a stop-smoking program to improve your chances of success. Talk to your doctor about medications or nicotine replacement therapy to help you quit smoking.


Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Learn the names and purpose of each of your medicines. Keep an accurate medicine list and current dosages with you at all times. Don't skip doses. If you miss a dose of your medicine, take it as soon as you remember -- unless it's almost time for your next dose. In that case, just wait and take your next dose at the normal time. Don't take a double dose. If you are unsure, call your doctor's office.

Weight monitoring

Weigh yourself every day. A sudden weight gain can indicate your heart failure is worsening. Weigh yourself at the same time of day and in the same kind of clothes. Ideally, weigh yourself first thing in the morning after you empty your bladder, but before you eat breakfast. Your health care provider will show you how to track your weight. He or she will also discuss with you when you should call if you have a sudden, unexpected increase in your weight.

In general, your health care provider may ask you to report if your weight increases by more than 2 pounds in 1 day or 5 pounds in 1 week, or whatever weight gain you were told by your doctor. This is a sign that you are retaining more fluid than you should be.

Follow-up care

Make a follow up appointment as directed. Depending on the type and severity of heart failure you have, you may require follow up as early as 7 days from hospital discharge. Keep appointments for checkups and lab tests that are needed to check your medications and condition.

Recognize that your health and even survival depend on your following medical recommendations.


Heart failure can cause a variety of symptoms, including the following:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Difficulty breathing at night

  • Swelling in the legs and feet or in the abdomen

  • Becoming easily fatigued

  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat

  • Weakness or lightheadedness

It is important to know what to do if symptoms worsen or if you develop signs of worsening heart failure.


When to call your doctor

Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following signs of worsening heart failure:

  • Sudden weight gain (more than 2 pounds in 1 day or 5 pounds in 1 week, or whatever weight gain you were told to report by your doctor)

  • Trouble breathing not related to being active

  • New or increased swelling of your legs or ankles

  • Swelling or pain in your abdomen

  • Breathing trouble at night (waking up short of breath, needing more pillows to breathe)

  • Frequent coughing that doesn't go away

  • Feeling much more tired than usual

When to seek emergency medical attention

Call 911 right away if you develop:

  • Severe shortness of breath, such that you can't catch your breath even while resting

  • Severe shortness of breath

  • Severe chest pain that does not resolve with rest or nitroglycerin

  • Pink, foamy mucus with cough and shortness of breath

  • A continuous rapid or irregular heartbeat

  • Passing out or fainting

  • Stroke symptoms such as sudden numbness or weakness on one side of your face, arm, or leg or sudden confusion, trouble speaking or vision changes


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