Tips for Dealing with Edema Caused by Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Edema: a condition characterized by an excess of watery fluid collecting in the cavities or tissues of the body. It is the medical term for swelling. Edema results whenever small blood vessels become “leaky” and release fluid into nearby tissues.

Edema is a normal response to bodily injury or inflammation. Edema can result from injuries such as a twisted ankle or bee sting. Edema in infections, can be a good thing! The increased fluid from the blood allows more infection fighting white cells to enter the affected area.

Edema can also be caused by a variety of medical conditions.

  • Low Albumin (hypoalbuminemia)

  • Allergic reactions

  • Obstructions in blood flow such as a blood clot in the deep veins of a leg or a tumor blocking lymph or blood flow.

  • Liver disease

  • Kidney Disease

  • Pregnancy

  • Cerebral edema from head trauma

  • Congestive Heart Failure

Always check with your doctor if you are experiencing any kind of edema. Your doctor diagnose the correct cause for your edema and will advise you on what treatment is best for you.

Congestive Heart Failure is the most common cause of edema. It is also one of the most common diseases in the United States. In left sided heart failure, the heart is not able to pump enough blood through the entire body. In right sided heart failure, the heart cannot pump blood efficiently through the lungs. Both condition worsens over time. Left sided heart failure is the most common. There presently is no cure for Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) however, your doctor will prescribe medications to control the disease and to lessen the complications associated with the disease.

Once you have been seen by your doctor and treatment has been initiated, what lifestyle changes can you make to lessen the effects of CHF and the edema that results? Plenty! Lower extremity edema is the most common complaint with CHF patients however, fluid can build up in other less visible parts of the body as well. Your help with lifestyle changes will help lessen the effects of your CHF.

Here are some tips to control edema in addition to the treatment initiated by your doctor:

  1. Control your weight. If you are overweight, try to lose some weight. This will lessen the workload of the heart.

  2. Stop smoking! Smoking, among other things, decreases circulation.

  3. Limit alcohol intake to minimal amounts if any.

  4. Remain active. Weight bearing exercise such as walking will actually help the muscles in your legs pump the blood—and excess fluid, back to the heart. Ask your doctor about exercises you can do to reduce swelling.

  5. Elevate your lower extremities above the level of your heart (2-3 inches is all you need) a 2-3 times a day. This allows gravity to help reduce the edema. Elevating your feet while you sleep at night can also help.

  6. Don’t sit for long periods of time. Gravity is working against you here! You are also decreasing circulation by bending at the hip and knee.

  7. If your doctor allows, massage your lower extremities with firm (not painful!) pressure upward toward your heart to help move excess fluid out.

  8. Keep your skin in the affected area clean, moisturized and dry. Watch for any open areas, cuts, scrapes or cracks that may lead to infection. Always wear shoes or slippers on your feet. Swelling can decrease sensation, inspect your legs and feet daily to make sure they are okay.

  9. Reduce salt intake. Again, follow your doctor’s instructions. A diet high in salt can lead to fluid retention and worsening edema. Canned foods are high in sodium so read labels at the store!

  10. Follow your doctor’s instructions on fluid intake. If a fluid restriction is ordered, stick to it. Everyone needs a certain amount of fluids daily to maintain body functions and not become dehydrated. Don’t avoid all liquids thinking that will stop the edema. That would be more harmful.

  11. Edema can show in less visible areas of the body such as the abdomen. Weigh yourself daily, at the same time, with approximately the same clothing on to get the most stable weight. Call your doctor if you have a weight gain of more than 2-3 pounds in one day or 5 pounds in a week! This can be a fluid build-up. Your doctor will advise you on a treatment plan. Do not self-medicate!

  12. Most importantly, follow the medication regime your doctor has prescribed and follow up with all doctor visits and tests as requested! You cannot treat CHF on your own! You need your doctor’s help. If you are having any issues or symptoms, be sure to contact the doctor for instructions.

This is article is not meant to offer medical advice only lifestyle changes that in conjunction with your doctor that can help individuals live with a diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure. Always check with your physician before implementing any changes.

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