The keys to managing heart failure are to take your medications, make diet changes, exercise regularly and be active, live a healthy lifestyle, monitor your health for new or worsening heart failure signs or symptoms, and keep your medical appointments. Your doctor or nurse will tell you how often to visit.

If you are having any of the symptoms described in this handout, DO NOT wait for your next appointment to tell your doctor or nurse. If your symptoms are discovered early, your doctor or nurse may change your medications to relieve your symptoms. (Do not change or stop taking your medications without first talking to your doctor or nurse.)

Important: DO NOT wait for your symptoms to become so severe that you need to seek emergency treatment! Always keep the following information close to your phone for easy access:

  •     A list of your doctors’ or heart failure nurses’ phone numbers
  •     A current list of your medications and dosages
  •     A list of any allergies you have

When should I call my doctor or nurse?

Call your doctor or nurse if you have:

  • Unexplained change in weight — if you gain or lose more than or equal to 4 pounds from your dry weight (After hospital discharge, your dry weight is 1 pound less than your weight on your first day home.)
  • Increased swelling in your ankles, feet, legs, or abdomen
  • Shortness of breath (difficulty breathing) that is new, has become worse, or occurs more often, especially if it occurs when you are at rest or when you wake from sleep feeling short of breath
  • A feeling of fullness (bloating) in your stomach
  • Extreme tiredness or decreased ability to complete daily activities
  • A respiratory infection or a cough that has become worse
  • Coughing during the night
  • Decreased urination, dark urine
  • Restlessness, confusion
  • Constant dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea or poor appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain or discomfort during activity that is relieved with rest
  • Changes in sleep patterns, including difficulty sleeping or needing to sleep a lot more than usual
  • Fast heart rate – at or over 120 beats per minute while at rest
  • A new or a more noticeably irregular heartbeat
  • Any other symptom that causes stress or concern

When should I go to the emergency department?

Go to your local emergency department or call 9-1-1 if you have:

  • New chest pain or discomfort that is severe, unexpected and occurs with shortness of breath, sweating, nausea or weakness
  • Angina-type chest pain that lasts longer than 15 minutes and is not relieved by rest and/or medication (nitroglycerin)
  • Fast heart rate (more than 120 -150 beats per minute), especially if you are short of breath or dizzy
  • Shortness of breath NOT?relieved by rest
  • Sudden weakness or paralysis (inability to move) in your arms or legs
  • Sudden onset of a severe headache
  • Fainting spell with loss of consciousness


  • American Heart Association: How Can I Live With Heart Failure? Accessed 3/7/2012
  • UpToDate. Patient Information: Heart Failure (Beyond the Basics). Accessed 3/7/2012
  • Heart Failure Society of America. Managing Feelings About Heart Failure. Accessed 3/7/2012

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