Tips for Caring for Patients with Heart Disease
February 15 2022
6 Tips to Help Improve Heart Health Plus Warning Signs to Watch For
The heart is a critically important organ as it is what keeps oxygen rich blood moving through our bodies, which is vital to life. So a diagnosis of heart disease can dramatically change one’s life.
No matter what type of heart disease you are diagnosed with, your heart muscle just isn’t functioning and pumping the way it should. This means there will be changes to diet, exercise and medications, among other things.
Here are 6 tips to help improve heart health in patients with heart disease.
1 Smoking is linked to an increased risk for heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure. Help the patient start the process of quitting smoking as soon as possible. There are medications and even some non-traditional methods to help with smoking cessation. If another person in the house also smokes, encourage them to quit with the patient, to make it easier for the patient and to help them encourage one another.
Encourage Diet Changes
2 A healthy diet can help us reduce or maintain weight and also provide our bodies with the nutrition it needs to function well. So ditch the unhealthy foods and snacks–they may taste good, but they don’t help your heart!
- Cut back on or cut out salt, which can lead to fluid retention which increases blood pressure. Make sure you read labels carefully.
- Cut out processed foods, high glucose foods, refined grains, or sugary foods and drinks which can trigger chronic inflammation that contributes to plaque buildup. Many of these foods are packaged, so opt for more fresh foods. Also, replace white rice with brown or long grain wild rice and opt for wheat flour over white flour.
- Cut back on foods loaded with saturated fat (like red meat or full fat dairy) as these contribute to the “bad” DL cholesterol levels, chronic inflammation, and plaque formation in the arteries that reduce or block blood flow. Try replacing red meat with more chicken and fish.
- Indulge wisely. Keep portion size small and don’t go overboard on the sodium.
Be sure to get a customized plan from a dietician that fits the patient’s particular heart condition and encourage them to follow it to give their heart a break!
Encourage Regular Exercise
3 Excess weight can be an extra burden on the heart. Encourage the patient to exercise regularly to reduce or maintain their weight. The exercise plan prescribed will depend on age, physical ability, balance, and the type of heart disease, so work with the care team to find the right exercises and encourage movement. Start with a realistic goal and work up to longer periods of exercise.
Help Limit Alcohol
4 Alcohol can be dangerous if you have heart failure or an abnormal heartbeat, if you’ve had a heart attack, or if you take medications that may be affected by alcohol, like statins. Encourage the patient to be honest about their alcohol intake. In some cases, it might be okay to drink in moderation, however, it does depend on the patient’s health. Encourage them to stick to whatever the doctor advises to avoid health risks.
Help Reduce Stress
5 Stress triggers the release of adrenaline, which is helpful if we truly need the fight or flight response. However, chronic stress can really put a burden on our bodies, especially our heart. Help the patient eliminate or reduce chronic stress by helping them avoid stressful situations. Also teach them coping mechanisms, such as mindful breathing and meditation. Encourage them to take up or keep up with a hobby as doing something we love has been linked to reducing stress.
Assist with Prescribed Medications
6 Medication compliance is a big part of living a healthier life with heart disease. Missing a dose can have some serious repercussions. Encourage the patient to keep up with their medications (a pillbox can help) and give them gentle reminders when it is time to take a dose.
Warning Signs to Watch For
Heart disease patients can sometimes be reluctant to talk about symptoms that re-emerge. So it’s key that caregivers watch for warning signs of something serious. These include:
- New chest discomfort
- Leg swelling
- Shortness of breath
- Pain between the shoulder blades
- Increased fatigue
Keeping an eye out for any of these warning signs will allow the care team to address issues before they become extremely serious or even deadly. You should also encourage the patient to be open and honest about how they are feeling, rather than embarrassed. Good communication is key to keeping patients with heart disease healthy and living a full and happy life.