Improving quality of life for people living with congestive heart failure
Life with congestive heart failure (CHF) can be a difficult journey. Your symptoms may get in the way of day-to-day activities, your family members may worry about how to take care of you, and you may be unsure about what to expect and how to plan for your future. Palliative care can help make that journey easier on you and your family, so you can live as well as possible.
Palliative care is team-based medical care that is focused on improving quality of life for people living with serious illness and their families. It provides an added layer of support to control your pain and symptoms and to coordinate your care. Your palliative care team will work closely with your heart doctor and any other doctors who are treating you, to make sure your treatment plan is right for you.
Palliative care doctors are experts in complex symptom management. People living with heart failure have shortness of breath and feel very tired, they can have weakness and swollen feet or ankles, and they can also have pain, nausea, anxiety and feel depressed. These symptoms can be really upsetting for you and for your caregivers, and for many heart failure patients, this results in emergency room visits and avoidable hospital stays. Your palliative care team will make sure your symptoms are well managed so you can stay safely at home and avoid going to the hospital unless you really need to. Managing your symptoms can also help you get back to having coffee with friends, taking walks in the park, whatever is important to you.
As well as giving you the right medicines for your symptoms and teaching you and your caregiver when and how to take them, your palliative care team can show you the best positions to help you breathe comfortably, and teach you breathing and relaxation exercises to help you stay calm when you have trouble breathing. There are also treatments that can drain the swelling in your legs and reduce the pain.
Heart failure is a progressive disease, which means that your heart will get weaker and your symptoms will get worse over time. But the course of the disease is different for everyone – it’s hard for you or your doctor to predict what will happen and when. Heart failure often gets worse suddenly and unpredictably. Your palliative care team will make sure that you understand your disease and what to expect, so that you can make decisions and plan for future episodes. Your team will make sure that the plan is in line with what is important to you, to give you the best possible quality of life.
If you or a loved one are living with congestive heart failure, talk to your doctor about getting a referral to palliative care. Almost all large hospitals have palliative care teams and there are growing numbers of teams in the community, including some that can visit you at home. You should ask your doctor for a referral as early in your disease as possible. You can also find providers in your area by visiting the Palliative Care Provider Directory. For more, click on the podcast below.