by Angela Audette, RN, BSN
February is National Heart Month, a great time to remind people living with heart disease of important ways to stay safe and comfortable at home.
At Hope Health Visiting Nurse, I care for patients with chronic heart problems like cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure (CHF) and high blood pressure. Some are recovering from heart surgery.
My heart patients all want the same thing—to stay safe and independent in the comfort of home. It’s my job to help them achieve this goal.
Every case is different, but I have five general tips for people with heart conditions. If your doctor says you’re at risk for heart attack, stroke or heart failure, read on!
Limit your sodium intake to 2000 mg per day and under 500 mg per meal.
Tip 1: Skip the salt
It’s critical for people with heart disease to keep tabs on the salt (sodium) they eat. I advise patients to limit sodium intake to 2000 mg per day and under 500 mg per meal.
Here’s the scoop on salt: When you consume too much, it goes into your bloodstream and causes the body to pull water into the blood vessels. This excess fluid increases your blood pressure, like when a garden hose is turned on full blast. High blood pressure puts strain on the heart, which increases risk for heart failure.
Saying no to the salt shaker is just one piece of the puzzle. You should also watch out for sodium hidden in processed foods like TV dinners, frozen pizza, and boxed or bagged snacks. Read nutrition labels carefully before making selections.
Call your doctor if you gain two to three pounds in a day or five pounds in a week.
Tip 2: Step on the scale every day
Your body has a great of way of alerting you to sodium overload—you gain weight quickly. Those extra pounds are a sign of dangerous fluid buildup in the blood vessels, legs or lungs.
To control your weight gain, buy a scale and weigh yourself each day. If you gain a pound, dial back on the salt. If you gain two to three pounds in a day or five pounds in a week, call your doctor or tell your home care nurse.
Speak up if memory problems, budget or lifestyle make it difficult to take your medications correctly.
3. Take your medications as prescribed
There are generally three reasons individuals have trouble taking their heart disease medications.
Forgetfulness is one. Busy lives or memory failure can interfere with taking your meds. Ask your home care nurse for help with setting up pill boxes or utilizing tricks to remember.
Some patients can’t afford their prescription copays. Once again, tell your home care nurse rather than not fill a prescription or skip doses. Many financial assistance resources are available.
Lastly, heart patients sometimes choose not to take their prescription diuretics, also known as water pills, for fear of having an accident while away from home. Diuretics flush excess salt out of the body through the urine.
If you must skip a scheduled water pill, take it late rather than not at all. It’s hard to catch up once you fall behind on fluid buildup.
Tell your doctor or home care nurse if you’re feeling depressed or anxious.
4. Don’t sweep depression and anxiety under the rug
Mental health is as important to heart disease management as taking your medications every day. Depression and anxiety are normal and common among people with heart problems.
For example, some heart-attack patients feel guilty for feeling blue after recovery. Post-surgical patients might find it unsettling to survive an operation after mentally preparing for death. The thought is, “I lived, so why do I feel so sad?”
You should feel no shame in these feelings, and bottling them up will only put physical strain on your heart. Tell your doctor or home care nurse so we can connect you with treatment.
Trust your health care providers to put you in the best position to stay out of the hospital, safe and comfortable at home.
5. Communicate with your health care providers
Sometimes calling the doctor feels like calling the school principal, but it shouldn’t. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you experience weight gain, shortness of breath, head aches, dizziness or swelling in the legs. (Call 911 if you feel chest pain.)
Be specific. Don’t just say, “I don’t feel well today.” Say, “I have CHF and have gained three pounds since yesterday.” These details will help the person who answers to assess the urgency and triage you quickly.
Trust your home care nurse, too. Whether you are feeling blue, or can’t afford a medication, or need help grocery shopping, or are skeptical of a medication—ask us and we’ll find a solution.
Lifestyle change is hard, and nobody is perfect. But nearly everything is fixable if you communicate with us. We can put you in the best position to live independently, safely and comfortably at home.
Angela Audette is chronic care nurse navigator for HopeHealth Visiting Nurse, part of the HopeHealth family of services that includes hospice care, palliative care, and dementia and Alzheimer’s services.
Questions about home care? Contact us today at (844) 671-HOPE or Information@HopeHealthCo.org.