Heart Failure: Breathe More Easily

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One of the earliest symptoms of heart failure is shortness of breath. This occurs when your heart can't function well enough to pump the blood out of your heart, causing blood to back up in the blood vessels of the lungs. Fluid then leaks from your blood vessels into the air sacs in your lungs. This, in turn, makes it difficult for oxygen to get into the blood, causing shortness of breath.

You may experience shortness of breath during physical exertion, such as when climbing a flight of stairs. You may also experience it while you’re at rest – even at night when sleeping.

You can do several things to help yourself breathe more easily:

  • Avoid sodium (salt). Keeping your sodium intake at a minimum is more than just not adding salt to food. Many prepared and fast foods already have high amounts of sodium added, so it is important to read the nutritional information on packaging. This will reduce the amount of fluid your body retains. Talk with your doctor about how to limit your sodium intake and what is best for you.
  • Eat a healthy diet of fruit, vegetables and whole (unprocessed) foods. Limit your intake of red meat, lunchmeat, refined sugar, and refined flour.
  • Sleep with several pillows propped behind your head and shoulders to make it easier to breathe at night. If you notice that you need to use more pillows than usual to help you breathe comfortably, call your doctor immediately.
  • Talk with your doctor about what level of activity is appropriate for you. Your doctor can help you gauge what you can and can't do.
  • Pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you become fatigued during an activity, stop and rest. You can always postpone finishing a task that wears you out.
  • Work with your doctor to develop an aerobic exercise program, and then exercise every day. This will strengthen both your heart and lungs and help reduce the amount of fluid that seeps into your lungs. Aerobic exercise includes walking, swimming, biking and other exercises that raise your heart rate.

Shortness of breath can be a symptom of a serious problem. If you notice a sudden worsening or you feel breathless while at rest when you never have before, call your doctor right away.



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