What Is Heart Failure?

In simple terms, heart failure (sometimes termed “congestive heart failure”) refers to a condition in which your heart is not pumping blood as well as it should. It is a serious illness that can affect how long you will live, so it is important to do what you can to manage it according to your medical team’s recommendations.

Many of the symptoms of heart failure have to do with fluid retention. This is because as the heart’s pumping action weakens, blood backs up into the vessels surrounding the lungs, causing the excess fluid to leak into the lungs, then other areas of the body. Swollen legs and feet, shortness of breath, and fatigue are all related to this retention of fluid. Fluid intake, fluid output, diet, exercise, and medications are all factors that can affect your near- and long-term prognosis with the disease.

What are some contributing factors to heart failure?

The most common are:

– Coronary heart disease 
– High blood pressure
– Irregular heartbeat
– Lung disease
– High salt consumption
– Diabetes
– High alcohol consumption
– Infection

Fluids — More than your favorite drinks

When your health provider asks you to track your fluid intake, you may immediately think that you only need to keep an eye on coffee, juices, and other favorite beverages. But fluids also include soups, ice cream, and other foods that might not spring to mind.

Here’s a list that includes common fluid sources:

– Water
– Alcohol
– Milk
– Soft Drinks
– Cream
– Non-dairy creamer (liquid form)
– Coffee
– Tea
– Fruit juice and drinks
– Jello
– Vegetable juice
– Frozen desserts (including ice cream, popsicles, sorbet, gelato, and sherbet)
– Ice cubes
– Soups and broths

Four ways to reduce fluid intake   

1. Chew gum or suck on ice cubes or hard sour candies to help keep your mouth moistened and reduce the urge to drink fluids. 

2. Drink fluids in sips instead of gulps.

3. Measure and store your day’s fluid allotment in a container in the refrigerator to help you portion out servings during the day.

4. Pour beverages into small serving cups or glasses.

Tips for limiting sodium intake

The link between sodium and water retention is well known. Thus, a common change medical providers ask patients to make is to reduce their sodium intake. Your doctor will likely provide a daily sodium target level for you. 

The choices you make in choosing, preparing and serving foods that are low in sodium are among the most important factors in managing heart failure (for menu ideas, see our recipes). If you are used to eating foods that are high in sodium, the transition may be tough, but in a few weeks, you may realize you don’t miss your old diet as much as you thought you would.

Here are some tips for making it easier:

1. Make diet changes slowly.

2. Take the salt shaker off your table and don’t add salt to foods as you cook. (This step alone could cut your daily sodium intake by up to 30%.)

3. Choose foods that are naturally low in sodium. (Fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh meat are good choices.)

4. Minimize prepared foods. (Frozen and refrigerated “made ahead” meals and canned goods are often loaded with sodium — check the label.)

5. Watch out for foods that claim to be healthy but have hidden sources of sodium and fat (for example, salad dressings and toppings are often high in sodium).

6. Get to know which foods are high in sodium. Ham (1255 mg per 3.5 oz.) and pickles 928 mg per 1 medium*) are examples where a single serving could put you well over the range of your daily target.

Eating fresh or unprocessed foods will make an enormous difference in reducing your sodium intake. Consider these examples.

Fresh Green Beans (1/2 cup) 2 mg sodium
Frozen Geen Beans (1/2 cup) 9 mg sodium
Canned Green Beans (1/2 cup) 170 mg sodium

Plain Rice (1 cup) 0 mg sodium
Rice Mix (1/2 cup) 537 mg sodium

Handy tip — The Cormeum app will automatically track your sodium intake when you enter your daily diet.

*Source: Owensboro Medical Health System