Your Proactive Caregiver Advocate: Dr. Cynthia Speaks

Topic: Nutritional Health and Heart Failure (HF)

One of the most challenging consequences of having a chronic disease is the adjustments many must make associated with nutrition. I think back to my acute-care days, working at the hospital. I realized easy on that one of the most important aspects of being a heart failure nurse was educating patients and their families to improve your health and wellness. Hearing no, you cannot have your favorite food is a bummer for anyone. I also had to face the sad reality that some patients (young and seasoned), no matter how much you educated them; they are going to do what they want and use the emergency room as their doctor’s office. Let me just say that will always be the nature of the beast…(this has much to do with access and resources…another topic for another time).

For our elderly population, with often additional health challenges, repeated insults on the compromised heart muscle only lessens its ability to perform, and a poor prognosis is often the sad outcome. Is it possible to slow down repeated exacerbations with nutritional strategies that decrease heart failure symptomatology?


I would always start by saying; chronic diseases are lifelong but manageable. The key work here is MANAGEABLE! With moderation and strict adjustments, visits to the doctor for maintenance checks increase, and emergency-room visits, and hospitalization can decrease. Even so, doing one’s part is critical. As caregivers, paying attention to the health issues of the ones we care for, falls in our laps.

What Are the Two Major Nutritional Challenges in Heart Failure?

Sodium and fluid intake are major areas of contention, both required a major monitoring plan. Eating foods high in sodium(salt) and drinking large amounts of liquids when the heart pump cannot pump effectively creates symptoms like shortness of breath and swelling of many body parts (hands and feet).

Something as simple as monitoring sodium and liquid intake and taking your medications, as prescribed (diuretics) and daily weighing can help with managing this chronic disease(if weight is up 2–3 pounds and swelling noted), I would be proactive and call the healthcare practitioner!

Let me close by saying, my mother in her later years, was diagnosed with heart failure. Because of my years of working as a heart failure nurse and care manager, I kept her out of the hospital because of my knowledge foundation. Watching her salt and fluid intake was our saving grace.

If you start with monitoring the sodium and liquid intake (and another advice prescribed by your healthcare practitioners) helping your care recipient decrease exacerbation of the chronic disease will make everyone feel better.



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Dr. Cynthia J. Hickman

Dr. Cynthia J. Hickman

Dr. Hickman is the author of From the Lens of Daughter, Nurse, and Caregiver: A Journey of Duty and Honor and The Black Book of Important for Caregivers.