Holidays can be hard on the heart. In fact, while the number of people admitted to hospitals for heart failure is lower on major holidays, it climbs in the days that follow. People may avoid going to the hospital on holidays because they don’t want to spoil holiday plans or they may assume that their doctor’s office is closed.
Eating salty foods, lack of exercise and the stress of traveling during the holidays may contribute to an increase in hospital admissions. Americans have a tendency to eat and drink too much this time of year. For persons with heart failure, the holidays can be an especially challenging time.
Here are some tips:
- If your holiday plans include traveling on a plane, be sure to consult with your doctor ahead of time. Being seated for extended periods, dehydration and lower oxygen levels inside the plane can put added stress on your heart. Be certain to have all your medications with you, avoid alcohol during the flight, stay hydrated, and take breaks from sitting if possible during your trip.
- It is a good idea to pass on processed meats. Ham, bacon and sausage all taste great, but are high in sodium. Substitute processed meats with fresh selections like turkey, chicken or fish.
- If you are preparing side dishes, be aware of and limit how much salt is being used in your stuffing, broccoli, green bean and other casseroles. Substitute herbs in place of salt.
- As tempting as it may be, the holidays are not the time to make excuses for second servings. Avoid the temptation and let friends and family take home any leftovers.
- Taking your heart failure medications as prescribed is one of the best things you can do to manage your heart failure. That means there are no breaks during the holidays.
Also, be aware that your weight is a great indicator of excess fluid retention. A good practice is to weigh yourself every morning. A gain of 3 pounds or more overnight two days in a row or 5 pounds in 5 days may indicate increased heart failure.
If you have a diagnosis of heart failure and if any of the symptoms suddenly become worse or you develop a new sign or symptom, it may mean that existing heart failure is getting worse or not responding to treatment. Contact your doctor promptly.
Seek emergency treatment if you experience any of the following:
- Chest pain
- Fainting or severe weakness
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat associated with shortness of breath, chest pain or fainting
- Severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, frothy or foamy mucus
Although these signs and symptoms may be due to heart failure, there are many other possible causes, including other life-threatening heart and lung conditions. Don’t try to diagnose yourself! Call 9-1-1!
Learn to recognize the signs of a heart attack and perform CPR in an American Heart Association Heartsaver CPR AED course.