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Discharge Instructions for Heart Failure

You have been diagnosed with heart failure. The term heart failure sounds scary because it suggests the heart is no longer working. But it actually means the heart isn't doing its job as well as it should. Heart failure happens when your heart muscle can't keep up with your body's need for blood flow. Symptoms of heart failure can be controlled by changes in your lifestyle and by following your doctor's advice.

Home care


Ask your health care provider about an exercise program. You can benefit from simple activities such as walking or gardening. Exercising most days of the week can make you feel better. Don't be discouraged if your progress is slow at first. Rest as needed and stop activity if you develop symptoms such as chest pain, lightheadedness, or significant shortness of breath.


Follow a heart healthy diet. And make sure to limit the salt (sodium) in your diet. Salt causes your body to hold water. This makes your heart work harder. Limit your salt by doing the following:

  • Limit canned, dried, packaged, and fast foods.

  • Don't add salt to your food.

  • Season foods with herbs instead of salt.

  • Watch how much liquids you drink. Drinking too much can make heart failure worse. Talk with your health care provider about how much you should drink each day.

  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. It may harm your heart. Women should have no more than 1 drink a day and men should have no more than two.


If you smoke, you'll need to quit. Smoking increases your chances of having a heart attack, which makes heart failure worse. Quitting smoking is the number one thing you can do to improve your health. Enroll in a stop-smoking program to improve your chances of success. Talk with your health care provider about medicines or nicotine replacement therapy to help you quit smoking.


Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Learn the names and purpose of each of your medicines. Keep an accurate medicine list and current dosages with you at all times. Don't skip doses. If you miss a dose of your medicine, take it as soon as you remember. If you miss a dose and it's almost time for your next dose, just wait and take your next dose at the normal time. Don't take a double dose. If you are unsure, call your doctor's office.

Weight monitoring

Weigh yourself every day. A sudden weight gain can mean your heart failure is getting worse. Weigh yourself at the same time of day and in the same kind of clothes. Ideally, weigh yourself first thing in the morning after you empty your bladder, but before you eat breakfast. Your health care provider will show you how to track your weight. He or she will also discuss with you when you should call if you have a sudden, unexpected increase in your weight.

In general your health care provider may ask you to report if your weight goes up by more than 2 pounds in 1 day or 5 pounds in 1 week, or whatever weight gain you were told by your doctor. This is a sign that you are retaining more fluid than you should be.

Follow-up care

Make a follow-up appointment as directed. Depending on the type and severity of heart failure you have, you may need follow-up as early as 7 days from hospital discharge. Keep appointments for checkups and lab tests that are needed to check your medicines and condition.

Recognize that your health and even survival depend on your following medical recommendations.


Heart failure can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Difficulty breathing at night

  • Swelling in the legs and feet or in the belly (abdomen)

  • Becoming easily fatigued

  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat

  • Weakness or lightheadedness

It is important to know what to do if symptoms get worse or if you develop signs of worsening heart failure.


When to call your doctor

Call your doctor right away if you have any of these signs of worsening heart failure:

  • Sudden weight gain (more than 2 pounds in 1 day or 5 pounds in 1 week, or whatever weight gain you were told to report by your doctor)

  • Trouble breathing not related to being active

  • New or increased swelling of your legs or ankles

  • Swelling or pain in your abdomen

  • Breathing trouble at night (waking up short of breath, needing more pillows to breathe)

  • Frequent coughing that doesn't go away

  • Feeling much more tired than usual

When to seek emergency medical attention

Call 911 right away if you have:

  • Severe shortness of breath, such that you can't catch your breath even while resting

  • Severe shortness of breath

  • Severe chest pain that does not resolve with rest or nitroglycerin

  • Pink, foamy mucus with cough and shortness of breath

  • A continuous rapid or irregular heartbeat

  • Passing out or fainting

  • Stroke symptoms such as sudden numbness or weakness on one side of your face, arm, or leg or sudden confusion, trouble speaking or vision changes

Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sarah, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/7/2014
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