Currently, there is no cure for most cases of heart failure. However, with careful management of the condition, a very good quality of life is possible for many patients. Being proactive in taking care of your heart health is key to successful heart failure management. You will work closely with a team of health professionals to help slow the progression of the condition and to respond quickly to warning signs of worsening heart failure to prevent hospital admissions.
Managing your heart failure will be a life-long process. Because of this, you will want to develop a good working relationship with those team members and be comfortable with being honest with them about what you are doing at home to manage your heart health. You will want to discuss any items that could be causing worsening heart failure (such as continuing to use tobacco products, eating high-sodium foods, problems you may have with taking medications as prescribed, etc.).
Who Is on a Heart Failure Care Team?
Depending on your situation and where you are being treated, your heart failure care team may consist of some of all of the following medical professionals:
- Cardiologists. Cardiologists are physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating heart problems. Depending on your treatment needs, you may remain under the care of a general cardiologist, or you may work with that cardiologist in conjunction with an interventional cardiologist (who specializes in cardiovascular procedures performed via a thin tube called a catheter) or a cardiovascular surgeon. An adult congenital cardiologist works with those patients who were born with heart problems and have transitioned to adult care.
- Primary care physician. A primary care physician evaluates patients for overall health and treats illnesses. Your primary care physician will retain a central role in your heart failure care, coordinating services with other members of the care team.
- Clinical nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Clinical nurse practitioners have additional advanced training and can practice medicine with or without physician supervision (depending on the law in a state). Physician assistants are licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. Both medical professionals provide care by performing exams and some types of procedures, taking medical histories, ordering diagnostic tests and treatments, making diagnoses, prescribing medications and making referrals to other specialists. These professionals will often be your point of contact for reporting heart failure warning signs such as sudden weight gain.
- Clinical nurse specialists and other nurses. You will be cared for by a range of other nurses while being treated for heart failure. Some of these nurses will have a clinical specialization specifically in heart failure care. These nurses will be valuable members of your heart failure care team.
- Diabetes educators. If you have diabetes, you may be referred to a diabetes educator who is trained to help you understand diabetes and what you need to do to manage the condition and maintain targeted blood glucose levels.
- Physical and occupational therapists. Moving forward with an exercise plan after a diagnosis of heart failure will be critical to maintaining your best heart health. Physical therapists can assist you with an exercise plan as part of a cardiac rehabilitation program. You may also find that everyday tasks are not as easy to complete because of weakness, fatigue, or heart-failure related cognitive problems. An occupational therapist can help you rebuild these capacities or make adaptations that allow you to more easily complete tasks, when necessary.
- Dietitians. Dietitians are trained to evaluate your diet and suggest heart-healthy changes in your eating that may help reduce your cholesterol level, lower blood pressure, and manage diabetes, if you have it.
- Mental health professionals. A diagnosis of heart failure can be emotionally stressful. Psychologists and counselors can provide individual and group counseling and help you identify support groups.
- Social workers or case managers. These professionals can help you navigate financial, insurance and legal aspects of your care.
- Smoking cessation specialists. If you smoke, you may be referred to a smoking cessation program. These programs are led by counselors with special training and experience in helping people end their addictions. Often, the program is supervised by a physician so that your addiction to nicotine is treated in a way that takes into account any other medical problems for which you may also be receiving treatment.
- Pharmacists. We often overlook one of the most important members of our healthcare team—our pharmacist. In addition to filling prescriptions for medication, your pharmacist can answer questions about drug interactions, insurance, generic medications, and much more.
Remember that you are the most important member of your heart failure care team. Your active participation in your care will be a valuable part of managing your condition and making sure that the right decisions are made for you.
Don't hesitate to ask questions of your healthcare providers. Be sure to take advantage of the care team resources who are available to you to help you develop plans for safe physical activity and good nutrition, and to help you navigate the healthcare system to be sure your needs are being met. Enroll in a cardiac rehabilitation program and make an appointment with a dietitian. All of these experts are there to help you on your heart-health journey.
Part of your role as a member of your own healthcare team is to ask questions. This list of questions for your physician can help you get started.
A dietician on your heart failure team will give you guidance on heart-healthy eating. Click here for some ideas from SecondsCount about how you can make your diet more heart-healthy.
If you have a diagnosis of heart failure, you will be eligible for a cardiac rehabilitation program. Cardiac rehab is a structured program that includes exercise monitored by health professionals, as well as counseling for reducing cardiovascular risk factors. These programs also provide emotional/psychological support and counseling for participants. To learn more about cardiac rehab, visit Cardiac Rehabilitation.