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A heart failure action plan gives you an easy way to check your symptoms and see changes. The plan also tells you when you need to get help. Your doctor may give you a plan, or you might create one together.
You'll use your plan every day. It takes the guesswork out of knowing when symptoms mean you should call your doctor or when you need to call for emergency help instead.
Keep a written copy of your plan where it's easy to find so you can see what to do if you notice a change. Share this plan with other people who can help you check for symptom changes and make decisions.
Heart failure zones
Your plan might use heart failure zones to help you check your symptoms and know what to do. Often, these types of plans are called zone checks, because they divide symptoms into three zones.
- The green zone means you're doing well. This is where you want to be. For example, your weight isn't changing, and you can breathe easily.
- The yellow zone means you need to call your doctor. You have new symptoms, or your symptoms have changed. For example, you might have more shortness of breath.
- The red zone means that you need to call 9-1-1 and get help right away. You have emergency symptoms, like severe trouble breathing.
How do you use a daily action plan?
Learning the zones
Heart failure zones give you an easy way to see changes in your heart failure symptoms. They also tell you when you need to get help. Check every day to see which zone you are in.
Green zone. You are doing well. This is where you want to be.
- Your weight is stable. It's not going up or down.
- You breathe easily.
- You are sleeping well. You are able to lie flat without shortness of breath.
- You can do your usual activities.
Yellow zone. Be careful. Your symptoms are changing. Call your doctor or nurse advice line.
- You have new or increased shortness of breath.
- You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
- You have sudden weight gain, such as more than 1 to 1.3 kilograms (2 to 3 pounds) in a day or 2.3 kilograms (5 pounds) in a week. (Your doctor may suggest a different range of weight gain.)
- You have increased swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet.
- You are so tired or weak that you can't do your usual activities.
- You are not sleeping well. Shortness of breath wakes you up at night. You need extra pillows.
Red zone. This is an emergency. Call 9-1-1.
You have symptoms of sudden heart failure. For example:
- You have severe trouble breathing.
- You cough up pink, foamy mucus.
- You have a new irregular or fast heartbeat.
You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
- Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
- Shortness of breath.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
- Light-headedness or sudden weakness.
- A fast or irregular heartbeat.
If you have symptoms of a heart attack: After you call 9-1-1, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
Most heart failure action plans include the following steps. Be sure to follow your plan and any instructions your doctor gives you. These steps can help you get started.
- Keep a written copy of your plan where it's easy to find and use.
- Share this plan with other people who can help you.
They can help you check for symptom changes and make decisions.
- Weigh yourself.
Do this at the same time each day. Record your weight. Some people keep a calendar by the scale and write their weight on it.
- Pay attention to symptoms.
Symptoms include shortness of breath and swelling in your feet, ankles, or legs.
- Take your medicines as prescribed.
Try to take them at the same time every day.
- Limit sodium.
Your doctor can tell you how much sodium is right for you. An example is less than 3,000 mg a day.
- Be active.
Also watch for signs that your heart is being stressed, and know when to stop and rest.
- Check each day to see which heart failure zone you're in.
Your action plan will help you know if you are doing okay or if you need to call your doctor or call 9-1-1.
- Live a heart-healthy lifestyle.
- If you smoke, quit.
- Try to stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
- Eat heart-healthy foods. These include vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains. Limit saturated fat. Limit drinks and foods with added sugar.
- Limit or avoid alcohol. Ask your doctor how much, if any, is safe.
- Manage other health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
- If you think you may have a problem with alcohol or drug use, talk to your doctor.
Talk to your doctor if you feel sad and hopeless much of the time or if you are worried and anxious. These may be signs of depression or anxiety. Treatment with counselling and medicine can help.
When you take charge of your health, you're more likely to feel better and keep your heart failure from getting worse.
Current as of: September 7, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
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