Heart Failure: Breathe More Easily

One of the early symptoms of heart failure is shortness of breath. When your heart can't work well enough to pump the blood out of your heart, blood backs up in the blood vessels leading to the lungs. Fluid then leaks from your blood vessels into the air sacs in your lungs. This makes it hard for oxygen to enter the blood. This causes shortness of breath.

You may be out of breath when you exert yourself. This includes carrying groceries or going up stairs. You may also feel this way when you are at rest . And even at night when sleeping or lying down.

Doing these things can help you breathe more easily:

  • Eat a healthy diet and don't use salt (sodium). Many prepared and fast foods already have high amounts of salt added. So it's important to read food labels. Water and salt tend to travel together. So reducing salt will reduce the amount of fluid your body retains. Talk with your healthcare provider about the best ways to limit salt. You may have to reduce the number of meals you eat out. When you do eat out, ask for your food to be made without added salt. Over-the-counter medicines often have added salt. So read the labels on these medicines.

  • Pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you become tired during an activity, stop and rest. You can always finish a task later. If you feel unusual chest pain, or your typical chest pain that doesn't resolve like it normally does, stop what you are doing and call 911.

  • Weigh yourself. Do this every day. Or as often as your provider tells you to. Weigh yourself at the same time each day. The best time is when you wake up, right after urinating, and before breakfast. Sudden weight gain may mean that your heart is having trouble. Call your provider if you gain more than 2 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week. Or whatever amount your provider has asked you to report.

  • Sleep with a few pillows propped behind your head and shoulders. This can make it easier to breathe at night. You may notice that you need to use many pillows to help you breathe easily. Or more pillows than normal. If so, call your healthcare provider right away.

  • Take your heart failure medicines as prescribed. They will help ease stress on your heart. And keep your lungs from becoming congested with retained fluid.

  • Pay attention to your feet. Be aware if your ankles start swelling. Or you can't put your shoes on. Call your provider right away.

  • Find a safe activity level. Talk with your healthcare provider about what activity level is safe for you. Your provider can help you figure out what you can and can't do.

  • Work with your provider to create an exercise program. Then exercise every day. This will strengthen your heart and lungs. And it will help reduce the amount of fluid that seeps into your lungs. Cardiac rehab may be a good form of watched activity for you.

Shortness of breath can be a serious problem. Call 911 if you notice severe shortness of breath. Or if you feel breathless while at rest when you never have before.

Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Steven Kang MD
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2023
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