Discharge Instructions for Heart Failure

Discharge Instructions for Heart Failure

You have been diagnosed with heart failure. The term “heart failure” sounds scary as it suggests the heart has stopped working. But it actually means the heart is not doing its job as well as it should. Heart failure happens when your heart muscle cannot keep up with your body’s need for blood flow. Symptoms of heart failure can be controlled by changes in your lifestyle and by following your doctor’s advice.

Home Care


Ask your doctor about an exercise program. You can benefit from simple activities such as walking or gardening. Exercising most days of the week can make you feel better. Don't be discouraged if your progress is slow at first. Rest as needed and stop activity if you develop symptoms such as chest pain, lightheadedness, or significant shortness of breath. Your doctor may prescribe a cardiac rehabilitation program. This is a program to help recover from heart disease through professional lifestyle counseling and education and medically supervised physical activity.  


Follow a heart healthy diet and work hard to remove salt from your diet. Try to limit total salt intake to 2000 mg a day or less. Salt causes your body to retain water, which can make it harder for your heart to pump. You can limit salt by doing the following:

  • Limit canned, dried, packaged, and fast foods.

  • Don't add salt to your food at the table.

  • Season foods with herbs instead of salt when you cook.

Monitor your fluid intake. Drinking too much fluid can make heart failure worse. It is commonly advised to limit total fluid intake to less than 66 ounces (2 liters) a day.

Limit alcohol. Too much alcohol can be harmful to the heart. Alcohol should be limited to no more than one serving a day for women and two servings a day for men.


Break the smoking habit. Smoking increases your chance of having a heart attack, which will worsen heart failure. Quitting smoking is the number one thing you can do to improve your health. Enroll in a stop smoking program and ask your doctor about medications or nicotine replacement therapy. These methods improve your chances of success.


Take your medications exactly as prescribed. Learn the names and purpose of each of your medications. Keep an accurate medication list with you at all times including current dosages. Don't skip doses. If you miss a dose of your medication, take it as soon as you remember, unless it's almost time for your next dose. In that case, just wait and take your next dose at the normal time. Don't take a double dose. If you are unsure, contact your doctor or pharmacist.

Weight monitoring

Weigh yourself every day. Do this at the same time of day and in the same kind of clothes. Ideally, weigh yourself first thing every morning after you empty your bladder, but before you eat breakfast. Record your weight and take a record of it to each of your doctor's visit. Call your doctor if you gain more than 3 pounds in 1 day, more than 5 pounds in 1 week, or whatever weight gain you were told to report by your doctor. This is a sign that you are retaining more fluid than you should be, which can worsen heart failure.


Heart failure can cause a variety of symptoms including the following:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Difficulty breathing at night

  • Swelling in the legs and feet or in the abdomen

  • Becoming easily fatigued

  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat

  • Weakness or lightheadedness

It is important to know what to do if you develop signs of worsening heart failure.


Make a follow-up appointment as directed by our staff. They will provide specific instruction for timing of appointments. Depending on the type and severity of heart failure you have, you may require follow up as early as 7 days from hospital discharge. Keep appointments for checkups and lab tests that are needed to check your medications and condition.

When to Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following signs of worsening heart failure:

  • Sudden weight gain (more than 3 pounds in 1 day, more than 5 pounds in 1 week, or whatever weight gain you were told to report by your doctor)

  • Trouble breathing not related to being active

  • New or increased swelling of your legs or ankles

  • Swelling or pain in your abdomen

  • Breathing trouble at night (waking up short of breath, needing more pillows to breathe)

  • Frequent coughing that doesn’t go away

  • Feeling much more tired than usual

When to Seek Emergency Medical Attention

Call 911 right away if you develop:

  • Severe shortness of breath, such that you cannot catch your breath, even resting

  • Severe chest pain that does not resolve with rest or nitroglycerin

  • Pink, foamy mucus with cough and shortness of breath

  • A continuous rapid or irregular heartbeat

  • Passing out or fainting

  • Acute stroke symptoms such as sudden numbness or weakness on one side of your face, arm, or leg, or sudden confusion, trouble speaking or vision changes.