A congestive heart failure (CHF) diagnosis often comes with a recommendation you’re not used to hearing from a doctor: don’t drink too much water. Excessive fluid intake can make CHF worse. And patients must keep an eye on how much they’re drinking. This may feel strange at first, but we have some tips to help our patients maintain fluid balance with this cardiovascular disorder in Bay Ridge, New York.
What Is Congestive Heart Failure?
Hearing “failure” that close to “heart” is a pretty frightening-sounding diagnosis. Although the condition is very serious, it doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped working altogether. CHF means that the heart isn’t strong enough to do its job as well as it should.
According to Hopkins Medicine, the heart is a muscle. When that muscle is weakened, it’s not able to contract as forcefully as it once did. This means that the blood returns to the heart faster than it can be sent back out. The extra blood collects in the heart. As a result, the body’s other organs don’t get the blood flow they need.
The body tries to fix this by pumping faster, which can lead to heart palpitations. Eventually, the heart expands because of the extra blood. The organs that are deprived of adequate blood flow suffer in other ways. For example, the kidneys retain sodium and water, and fluid collects in the lungs, making maintaining fluid balance a challenge. The enlarged heart presses on the lungs as well, making it even harder for the body to get the oxygen it needs.
How Is It Managed?
Unfortunately, CHF can’t be cured. Patients are treated to ease their symptoms and hopefully prevent any more damage. Your medical team may suggest some of the following treatments:
- Lifestyle changes – The first response is usually to make changes to a patient’s lifestyle. This may include restricting fluid intake to help reduce the buildup of fluid in the body and maintain proper fluid balance. Patients are often advised to limit their intake of salt to combat fluid retention, and caffeine to help prevent a fast heart rate. You may also be evaluated for sleep apnea because if it’s left untreated, the condition can stress the heart.
- Medications – There are a number of medications that may be prescribed to patients with CHF. These include vasodilators, which expand blood vessels, helping to bring down blood pressure. Diuretics may be used to combat fluid retention. ACE inhibitors help improve heart functions, and digitalis glycosides may strengthen the heart’s contractions. These are just a few of the medications that are available for CHF.
- Surgery – Severe cases of CHF may require surgery to open blocked arteries. Devices such as a pacemaker or defibrillator may be implanted to support heart function. The final resort for CHF damage is a heart transplant.
Maintain Fluid Balance
Too much fluid intake can be dangerous for CHF patients. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to get dehydrated either. Patients need to keep an eye on how much they’re drinking and be on alert for signs of fluid buildup. According to the National Library of Medicine publication Medline Plus, there are a few ways patients can help keep their fluid levels in a safe and healthy balance.
5 Practical Tips
- Keep track of your fluid intake. Write down each cup of fluid you drink, including liquids such as coffee or milk. This will help you make sure you’re staying within your doctor’s recommended amount, which is generally six to nine cups of liquid a day.
- Find ways to combat thirst. If you’re feeling thirsty, drinking more fluids isn’t the only way to feel better. Fight back against a dry mouth or throat by sucking on hard candy or chewing gum. You can rinse your mouth with water, or even hold a small piece of ice on your tongue. Sour flavors, such as a slice of lemon, can make your mouth water and relieve that parched feeling. It can also help to eat foods with high water content, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid excess salt. Not only does sodium contribute to water retention, but it also increases thirst. Avoid processed food, such as canned soup and frozen meals, that pack high levels of sodium. Try to flavor food with herbs and spices instead of salt.
- Don’t get too hot. When your body temperature rises, the natural response is to reach for a cooling drink. Keep your home comfortably cool, and wear light layers, so you can peel off excess clothing when you get warm.
- Track your weight. This isn’t about how you look; the scale can tell you if your body is retaining water. If your weight goes up quickly, increasing two or more pounds in a day or five or more pounds in a week, call your doctor right away. Fat doesn’t grow that quickly, so it’s a sign that your body may be retaining dangerous levels of fluids.
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