Reducing Your Risk of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
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Reducing Your Risk of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

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If you are at risk of developing congestive heart failure (CHF), you can take steps to prevent it by adhering to the following recommended lifestyle guidelines:

Lose Excess Weight

Excess weight can put a strain on the heart muscle, which can eventually lead to CHF. If you are overweight, adopt a sensible eating plan that will enable you to lose weight gradually and maintain your weight at the desired level.

Discontinue or Avoid Smoking

Smoking damages your blood vessels, reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, and forces your heart to work harder. Discuss with your doctor the best way to help you quit smoking.

Eat a Low Sodium Diet

Foods that are high in sodium (salt) cause your body to retain fluids. This results in an increased workload for your heart, and can worsen symptoms of shortness of breath and swelling in the ankles, legs, and feet. Try to restrict your sodium intake to 2,000 mg daily. You may also want to consult with a dietitian to learn about “hidden” sources of sodium in food.

Limit Fats and Cholesterol

Diets that are high in saturated fats and cholesterol increase your risk of developing coronary artery disease , which can lead to CHF. You may want to consult with a dietitian to learn which foods you should restrict or avoid to help reduce saturated fats and cholesterol. Some foods that contain cholesterol and/or saturated fat include:

  • High-fat processed meats, such as bologna, sausage, hot dogs
  • Solid fats, such as shortening, stick butter, or lard
  • Whole milk, cream, ice cream, and cheese
  • Baked goods that contain egg yolks and butter
  • Fried foods such as fried chicken, french fries, and potato chips
  • Fatty red meats or organ meats (such as liver)
  • Saturated oils like coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil

Maintain Normal Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a critical risk factor for CHF. Patients with poorly controlled blood pressure run twice the risk of developing heart failure compared with those who have normal blood pressure. Hypertension causes the heart muscle to work harder than normal. In response to this increased workload, the heart muscle may thicken, and eventually dilate. The increased strain on the heart, and the changes in the muscle in response to the strain, may eventually result in a weakened heart muscle, and finally heart failure. Discuss with your doctor the best way to reach and maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Decrease or Discontinue Alcohol Consumption

Excessive use of alcohol can weaken the heart, and predispose it to abnormal rhythms. Alcohol also may react with certain heart medications. You should reduce alcohol intake if you are at risk of developing CHF; you will definitely need to discontinue alcohol consumption if you develop CHF. Talk with your physician as to how best accomplish this goal.

Exercise Regularly

For people who have not yet developed CHF, regular aerobic exercise—such as brisk walking or using a stationary bike or treadmill—is recommended. Exercise will strengthen the heart muscle and lower blood pressure, and is recommended in moderation (at least 3-4 times a week for 30 minutes). People with CHF should discuss exercise with their physician. Depending on your symptoms, the severity of your CHF, and the degree of exercise you want to do, your doctor will decide whether or not you need an exercise test before embarking on an exercise program. Your doctor may give you an exercise “prescription.” In general, heavy lifting and over exertion are not recommended for people with severe CHF.


American Heart Association website. Available at: .

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: .

Last reviewed June 2008 by Michael J. Fucci, DO

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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