Preventing Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
Reducing Your Risk
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
- Discontinue or Avoid Smoking
- Eat a Healthy Diet
- Maintain Normal Blood Pressure
- Decrease or Discontinue Alcohol Consumption
- Exercise Regularly
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 .
Eat a Healthy Diet
Making dietary changes can help to lower your risk of CHF.
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.
In addition, try to avoid foods that contain fat and cholesterol, such as:
- 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
Research suggests that following the DASH diet may reduce the risk of heart failure. The DASH diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods, and low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol. Eating whole-grain breakfast cereal may lower your risk, as well.
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.
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:
7/6/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Levitan EB, Wolk A, Mittleman MA. Consistency with the DASH diet and incidence of heart failure.
Arch Intern Med.2009;169:851-857.
8/31/2009 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance
DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Djoussé L, Driver JA, Gaziano JM. Relation between modifiable lifestyle factors and lifetime risk of heart failure.