Heart Failure: Getting the Care You Need
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with heart failure, you probably have a lot of questions. What can I expect from treatment? What can I do to manage the condition? What kind of care will be needed in the future? It's important to have an open and honest discussion with your health care provider about these concerns. These tips can help you make sure your needs are met.
It's important to ask your health care provider questions during your visit to make sure you understand your condition and what your treatment involves. If you're uncomfortable doing so, it might help to bring a list of questions with you. You can give the list to your health care provider or use it to jog your memory during the visit. You'll probably want answers to questions such as these:
What is my diagnosis?
What is my heart function or ejection fraction?
Will my condition get worse?
What are the treatment options?
Will the treatment have side effects?
Why do I need this medication?
Will my insurance cover the treatment?
How much will the treatment help me?
Will I be able to take care of myself in the weeks and months ahead?
What can I do to manage my condition?
Which activities can I do, and which should I avoid?
Bring a notebook to write down the answers. Some people record the conversation so that they can listen again to their health care provider's instructions later. Don't be embarrassed to ask the health care provider to slow down or repeat something. It's important that you clearly understand your treatment, your medications and what you need to do to manage your condition.
Be open with your health care provider
Your health care provider will also need some important information from you. Tell your provider about your symptoms and how you're feeling. It's especially important to let your provider know about any changes or problems you've experienced. Be frank about whether you've been able to follow the diet, exercise, and other advice you've been given. Your health care provider needs to know where you're having difficulty so that he or she can help. Your provider also needs to know about all the medications you take, including over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements, so bring a list with you. And if you are seeing more than 1 health care provider, be sure that each one knows all the medications prescribed for you.
Ask for a helping hand
Sometimes your regular routine can seem challenging. If it's exhausting going to and from medical appointments, ask a family member to go with you. He or she can take notes, help you remember questions to ask and learn how to help you at home. Your health care provider may give you a referral to see a registered dietitian if you're having trouble following a low-salt, low-fat diet. He or she will work with you to develop meal plans, shopping lists, and recipes with your favorite foods. Your health care provider can also help you develop an exercise routine geared toward your abilities.
What you can do
There's a lot you can do at home to monitor your health. Your health care provider may ask you to weigh yourself regularly and keep a log of your weight, blood pressure, and symptoms. You can track your blood pressure with an easy-to-use digital monitor. Take your medications as prescribed. If you are having trouble doing so, contact your health care provider. Never stop taking your medications before talking with him or her. These practices will help your health care provider evaluate how well your treatment is working.
Taking an active role in your health can have many benefits. The more you and your health care provider know about your heart failure, the better treatment and care you'll receive for your condition.
- Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
- MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician