Your body and your heart can often respond to effects of heart failure so that you never notice any symptoms. Your heart compensates for added strain by working harder. However, as heart failure worsens, your body can gradually become less able to keep up. When a situation gets worse in very small stages, people sometimes do not even notice it. Your sense of what is normal may not be what it should be.
That’s why it’s important to know the symptoms and take note of any subtle changes in your body’s ability to compensate. Make sure your family members are aware of heart failure symptoms too, especially if they are involved in your heart failure care. Don’t miss out on the signs that may indicate a need to call your healthcare provider. Many times, your medical team can make changes to your medication or advise you on lifestyle changes that can help you feel better.
Heart failure requires you and your family or caregivers to pay close attention to any changes in your symptoms. If you notice anything new, or a sudden worsening of a current symptom, contact your healthcare provider right away. Also be sure to learn to recognize the signs of a heart attack.
Which Symptoms Should I Track?
Your healthcare team will tell you which heart failure symptoms you should track. The most common symptoms to track are:
Any shortness of breath and any worsening in your ability to do your regular activities.
Your heart rate To make up for the loss in pumping ability, the heart may start to beat faster. This can lead to heart palpitations, which may feel as though the heart is racing or throbbing.
Daily weight Many people are first alerted to worsening heart failure when they notice a weight gain of more two or three pounds in a 24-hour period or more than 5 pounds in a week. It’s a good idea to track your weight and check in with your healthcare provider if you notice sudden changes, and make sure you know the amount of weight gain your healthcare providers consider to be a problem for you.
Any swelling from fluids collecting in your body — most often in the ankles, lower legs and feet – and especially if you notice any increase.
Blood pressure Even for people who do not have heart failure, it’s important to track blood pressure and know your numbers.
Confusion or impaired thinking Changes in the make-up of your blood, such as the amount of sodium (too much) or oxygen (too little), can result in confusion or changes to your mental state. You may have some memory loss or have a worsening sadness or depression which may be related to changes in your body’s ability to compensate for the heart failure. These symptoms may be first noticed by others in your family, so it may be helpful to invite their feedback.
Other factors You may also be asked to keep track of other factors, such as appetite, ability to sleep, oxygen use (if you have been prescribed it by your doctor) and diuretic (“water pill”) use.
The Benefits of Tracking
When you’re aware of the changes, you are more likely to take action and make the small changes in your lifestyle and treatment plan that can help you live your longest and healthiest life.