Many of the factors that increase your risk of developing heart failure can be managed either by making lifestyle changes or by taking medicines.
Although there is limited evidence to prove that lifestyle changes make a big difference to the risk of heart failure, the following is generally good advice to help you lead a long and healthy life.
In particular, high blood pressure and smoking are risks for heart health and tackling these could help reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.
For smokers, giving up is likely to be the single biggest way to cut the risk of developing coronary heart disease and heart failure. Tobacco smoke can damage your heart in a number of ways, forcing it to work harder.
Smoking also tends to make the blood thicker and slows down blood flow, increasing the risk of blood clots (thrombosis). It damages the linings of the arteries, causing them to fur up. This furring up of the arteries (atherosclerosis) is a main cause of coronary heart disease, stroke and some forms of dementia.
Research has shown that you are up to four times more likely to give up smoking successfully if you use NHS support, together with stop-smoking medicines. Ask your doctor about this or go to NHS Smokefree.
Keep your blood pressure down
When your blood pressure is too high, your heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body. To cope with the extra effort the heart muscle becomes thicker over time, but eventually it becomes too stiff or weak to work properly. Keeping blood pressure down can stop this happening so it may be useful to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
It may be necessary to take blood pressure medicines (usually more than one) to get your blood pressure down to a healthy level. It is important you and your doctor choose the medicine or combination of medicines that will suit you.
Reduce your cholesterol level
High levels of cholesterol (fat) in your blood can cause furring and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), heart attacks and strokes. The risk of coronary heart disease - and therefore heart failure - increases as the level of cholesterol in the blood increases. If you have other risk factors, such as high blood pressure or you smoke, the risk is even bigger.
If your cholesterol level has been found to be too high, your doctor will usually first advise making some changes to your diet (switching to a low-fat diet) and taking plenty of regular exercise. If, after a few months, your cholesterol level has not dropped, you will usually need to take cholesterol-lowering medicines called statins.
Being overweight puts added pressure on your heart and increases your risk of coronary heart disease and a heart attack, both of which make heart failure more likely.
Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet can help reduce your risk of getting coronary heart disease and therefore heart failure. If you already have heart problems, eating a good diet can help protect your heart from getting worse, as well as protecting you from other diseases such as diabetes and some cancers.
Regular physical activity can keep your heart healthy and help you maintain a healthy weight. You do not need to join a gym or start running marathons, but including exercise in your daily routine will help. People who aren't easily mobile can do chair-based exercises.
Drink within safe limits
Drinking above recommended levels can increase blood pressure, which can lead to heart failure. Heavy drinking over a number of years can damage the heart muscle and lead directly to heart failure, as well as having many other harmful effects on your health.
Men who regularly drink more than three to four units of alcohol a day, and women who regularly drink more than two to three units a day are likely to be damaging their health.
Cut your salt intake
Too much salt can raise your blood pressure. Reducing the amount of salt you eat will help keep your blood pressure down and help reduce your risk of getting heart failure. People of African Caribbean descent appear to be more at risk of the harmful effects of salt compared with people from other ethnic groups.
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