Do I need a heart failure action plan?
Answer From Rekha Mankad, M.D.
If you have heart failure, you need to know how to quickly spot the early warning signs of your condition getting worse — and what to do about them. You might wonder: Should you simply call your health care provider if a change occurs? Or do you need to go straight to a hospital? Having a strategy allows you to know what to do and when.
That’s why cardiologists recommend that all people with heart failure have an action plan to help guide their self-care at home. A heart failure action plan — or self-check plan — provides clear instructions for you and your caregivers to follow should any new symptoms develop. You can work with your care provider to customize a plan that’s best for your type of heart failure and your basic abilities.
According to the American Heart Association, a typical plan can fall into three zones:
- Green = Stable. You don’t have noticeable changes in heart failure symptoms. Your weight is stable. You don’t have chest pain or shortness of breath. Continue your daily weight checks and treatment plan as recommended.
- Amber = Warning. Call your provider if you have a new cough, shortness of breath with activity, increased swelling in your legs or feet, or if you suddenly gain 2 to 3 pounds overnight or 5 pounds in a week. You might not need an office visit. But you might need to change your diet or medication. Follow the instructions in your plan.
- Red = Danger. Go to the emergency room or call your local emergency number if you have heart failure and have gained more than 5 pounds in a week. Also seek help if you can’t lie flat, are short of breath at rest, have increased swelling and discomfort in the lower body, or have a constant, hacking cough.
Strictly following your action plan can help your care provider quickly treat new health issues that develop and manage your care. If you stick to your self-care or action plans, you might decrease the times you go to a hospital or shorten your stays.
Also, be sure to tell your provider if you feel sad, anxious or depressed. Having these feelings might make it difficult to stick to your action and treatment plans.
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July 29, 2022
- Horwitz L, et al. Heart failure self-management. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 5, 2022.
- Heidenreich PA, et al. 2022 AHA/ACC/HFSA guideline for the management of heart failure: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Joint Committee on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2022; doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000001063.
- Jaarsma T, et al. Self-care of heart failure patients: Practical management recommendations from the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology. European Journal of Heart Failure. 2021; doi:10.1002/ejhf.2008.
- Self-check plan for HF management. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/heart-failure-tools-resources. Accessed May 7, 2022.