Tips for Family and Friends
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Helping with Symptom Monitoring for Heart Failure

It is important to monitor symptoms to determine if they are getting worse. Noticing changes in symptoms early and taking the appropriate steps to manage them can prevent urgent problems that might require a hospital stay from developing. Sometimes it is hard for people with heart failure to recognize changes in symptoms. So family and friends can help by monitoring symptoms along with the patient.

Family and friends can help a person with heart failure monitor symptoms by:

  • Telling the patient about any changes in his or her symptoms or condition that you notice, even if they are small.

    For example, if you notice increased shortness of breath, mental confusion, or ankle and leg swelling, tell the patient and encourage the patient to contact his or her doctor or nurse.

  • Helping the patient weigh him- or herself every day and keep a record of weight. Changes in a heart failure patient's daily weight can provide important information about whether the patient is retaining extra fluid that can be harmful.

    For example, if the patient's weight increases by four (4) pounds over the course of a week, he or she may be retaining too much fluid. You or the patient should call the doctor, so fluid retention can be treated early.

  • Observing the number of pillows the patient uses to keep from being short of breath during the night.

    If the person with heart failure needs more pillows, it is important to inform the patient's doctor or nurse.

  • Helping the patient with heart failure problem-solve if he or she develops symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection or the flu.

    If a person with heart failure develops the flu or an upper respiratory tract infection occurs, it may be difficult to tell if the heart failure is getting worse or if the symptoms are solely due to the infection or virus. In general, an appointment to see the doctor or nurse is probably in order.

    Decongestants should be taken with caution. Before taking an over-the-counter decongestant for flu or an upper respiratory tract infection, check with your doctor or nurse.

    For relief of pain, aches, and fever, it is preferable to take acetaminophen and avoid non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, sometimes called NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen, and others).

Refer to Module 4: Self-Care: Following Your Treatment Plan and Dealing with Your Symptoms for more detailed information on monitoring and managing symptoms of heart failure.

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