7 Ways to prepare for emergency situations with heart failure

It’s estimated that one million Canadians are living with heart failure, and many do not yet know that they’re suffering from this chronic illness, according to the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research

The Heart and Stroke Foundation reports that “heart failure is on the rise as more people are surviving heart attacks and other acute heart conditions.” There is currently no cure for this condition. However, when heart failure is diagnosed early, patients can live a full life by making changes to their lifestyle and working with their medical team to develop and follow a treatment plan that is best for them. 

On a daily basis, people living with heart failure need to monitor their weight, fluid intake, diet, and activity. In addition, it’s important to watch for signs of swelling in your feet, legs, ankles and stomach. All heart failure patients should be familiar with the Heart Failure Zones checklist published by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. This tool will help you to identify symptoms which require medical attention.

It’s incredibly important that you’re prepared for emergency situations when you have heart failure. We’ve compiled a list to help you get started. 

Know the warning signs 

Men and women can experience different signs of emergency with the heart. If you start to feel pressure or heaviness in your chest, notice that you are sweating more than usual, that you have shortness of breath or feel light-headed, call your medical professional or 9-1-1 immediately. Refer to the Heart Failure Zones for a complete list of symptoms in the yellow, caution zone and the red, danger zone.

Always carry your smartphone with you 

Keeping your smartphone in your pocket or your bag at all times, means that you can easily access it in an emergency situation. Add your family, friends, caregiver, and your doctor to your speed dial to expedite making contact with them. 

Make a list of your medications 

If you experience an emergency, those around you may not know the medications you’re currently taking or those that you’re allergic to. Write down a list detailing this information with your emergency contacts listed below it and keep copies in your wallet, car, and at home.

Give instructions to your family and friends 

Explain all heart failure warning signs to your family and friends, and what they can do if you experience these signs. You could also encourage those close to you to take a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) class which will help them provide you with assistance in the event of an emergency, before an ambulance arrives.

Consider creating a medical “go bag” 

Harvard Health recommends creating a bag that you or a loved one can grab in an instant. Your “go bag” could include your legal documents, a list of medications, recent test results, and a supply of emergency medications and/or devices. Keep this bag somewhere in your house so that you and your family members will be able to access it with ease. 

Keep a source of glucose close-by 

If you’re diabetic, it’s vital to keep a quick-acting source of glucose with you such as juice or candy, in case you experience a drop in your blood sugar. Harvard Health suggests carrying a blood glucose meter at all times so you can check your blood sugar levels and avoid medical emergencies. 

Know your numbers 

As a heart failure patient, it’s important that you know what your typical blood pressure (BP), heart rate, etc. are. For example, it may be typical for you to have a BP reading of 80/50, but this may be treated in error as low in a medical emergency, or conversely, a reading of 120/80 may be considered normal when in fact for your situation it may require investigation. Apps such as Heart Failure Storylines let you record and monitor your vitals on your smartphone.

“As it stands, heart failure is a leading cause of inpatient hospitalizations, with newly diagnosed patients spending over 26 days of hospital resources in their first year of treatment,” according to the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research. Why not make emergency preparedness a New Year’s resolution? — it’s definitely worthwhile.


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