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Living With Heart Failure

The staff at the UPMC Heart Failure Clinic in Central Pa. will work with you and your family to develop a plan to help you live with heart failure.

How can UPMC in Central Pa. help me manage my heart failure care?

If you participate in our Heart Failure Center, you will be supervised and treated wherever you are -- whether you are in the hospital, at a skilled nursing facility, or at home.

We have three dedicated Heart Failure inpatient units (7th floor at UPMC Harrisburg, WS3 at UPMC West Shore and CG4 at UPMC Community Osteopathic Hospital). Plus three other nursing units with telemetry at UPMC Harrisburg for inpatient heart failure care.

If you are admitted to the hospital, a nurse navigator from the Heart Failure Center will follow your progress, help determine why you were hospitalized, and assist the health care team to develop a plan for your return home. The nurse navigators work with the health care team to identify any personal barriers that may prevent you from following your plan of care for your heart failure, such as inability to afford your medications, lack of transportation, no close family, visual problems, etc.

All heart failure patients need outpatient and follow-up care. You should see your primary care physician (PCP), cardiologist, or nurse practitioner in the Heart Failure Center within 5-7 days of being discharged from the hospital. At UPMC, the case managers can assist you to make this appointment. In addition, our nurse navigators will call any agency (home care, skilled nursing facility, rehab, etc.) that is responsible for your care upon discharge to coordinate your heart failure care.

What can I do to manage my heart failure care?

With proper treatment, many heart failure patients can live healthy lives for years. However, you can play an important role in keeping yourself healthy:

Recognize heart failure symptoms

After you are discharged from the hospital, it is important to recognize your individual symptoms of heart failure and know how to deal with them. The Heart Failure Program uses the STOPLIGHT (PDF). The stoplight has green, yellow, and red days.

    Keep a Weight Record

    Heart failure can cause your body to hold water weight, so it's important to keep track of how much you weigh. Weigh yourself and record your weight each morning before you eat breakfast. Before you weigh yourself, empty your bladder and try to wear the same amount of clothing each time you weigh in. You should notify your doctor if:

    • You gain more than two pounds in 24 hours or five pounds in a week.
    • You begin to have trouble breathing.
    • You have swelling in your arms, legs, or feet.
    • Your jewelry or clothing is fitting tighter.

    Track Your Fluid Intake

    Too much fluid in your body can make it harder for your already-weakened heart to pump. If fluids have built up in your lungs and other parts of your body, such as your legs and stomach, your physician will order medicine (a diuretic) to help get rid of extra fluids. He or she also may suggest that you limit your liquid intake so that your body can get rid of the extra water and sodium.

    If you are at home, you should limit your fluid intake to six cups per day. If you are in the hospital, your nurses and patient care assistants (PCAs) will write down your intake (how much fluid you consume) and output (how much you urinate). You can help by:

    • Telling the staff when you drink liquid and eat food that is mostly liquid (jello, soup, ice cream, etc.) and keeping track of how much you eat or drink.
    • Checking with your nurse before drinking any liquids given to you by your family. You may be put on fluid restriction and only allowed six glasses of fluid a day.
    • Not urinating in the toilet -- all of your urine must be measured. Men must use a urinal and women must use a "hat" (a container that is placed in the toilet to collect urine).

    Follow a Low-Salt Diet

    Too much salt (or sodium) causes fluid to build up in your body. You must follow a low-salt diet. If you are in the hospital, you should only eat the food that is on your tray and check with your nurse or PCA before eating anything else. If you are at home, you should not add extra salt to your food and avoid salty foods.

    Take Care of Yourself

    When you are living with heart failure, it is important to take good care of yourself in other ways, including:

    • Taking the medications that your doctor prescribes for you – and not stopping any medications without first talking to your doctor.
    • Going to your doctor appointments.
    • Paying attention to how you feel and reporting increased symptoms.
    • Exercising as directed by your health care provider.
    • Limiting alcohol and caffeine, and avoiding tobacco.
    • Planning rest periods between your activities throughout the day.
    • Avoiding activities that make your heart work harder, such as working with your arms above your head or sitting with your legs down for a long time.
    • Avoiding extreme temperatures and humidity. When it's below 30 or above 80?, stay inside.
    • Notifying your doctor right away when you are sick. Even a cold can make your heart failure worse.

    Make Decisions About Your Care

    Each year at your annual physician appointment, you should discuss your heart failure with your doctor and determine if it is progressing. Here are some questions you should ask:

    • Discuss what you can do on your GREEN days or baseline. Are you able to do less even though you are following the ordered treatment plan?
    • Is it time to make decisions about how you want to manage your heart failure? For instance, do you want to discuss being referred to another facility to be evaluated for a transplant?
    • Would you like to know more about resources to manage heart failure in your home with the support of palliative care or hospice?

    As heart failure progresses, it is very important to share your wishes with your family.

    What other heart failure resources does UPMC in Central Pa. offer?

    The heart failure specialists at UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute will provide you with the information, education, and resources you need to live successfully with heart failure, including:

    • Low-Sodium and Stop and Go Food Pantry. The Heart Failure Program offers a low-sodium food pantry. The pantry supplies low-sodium food choices to our patients in financial need. A side benefit of the pantry is to use the food items for teaching about low-sodium food choices. In addition to the pantry, the Heart Failure Program also has a STOP-n-GO pantry. In the STOP cupboard are foods with high sodium (<140mg/serving) foods and in the GO cupboard are low sodium choices. Visuals and hands-on learning work best.
    • Living with Heart Failure Booklet (PDF). You will receive this booklet on your first visit. We hope that you will bring it with you to all of your medical appointments, tests, and hospitalizations. In the booklet there are sections that your doctors and nurses will help you fill out. If there is something you would like to learn more about, please let us know.
    • Heart Calendar (PDF). Each patient of the Heart Failure Program receives a heart calendar. The calendar is a tool that you can use to manage your symptoms.


    Need more information?

    Phone: 717-231-8445

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    UPMC Advanced Heart Failure Center
    Located at Medical Office Building 2
    2005 Technology Parkway
    Suite 300
    Mechanicsburg, PA 17050

    Phone: 717-231-8445

    UPMC Advanced Heart Failure Center
    Located at UPMC Harrisburg
    111 South Front Street
    2nd floor
    Harrisburg, PA 17101

    Phone: 717-231-8445
    Fax: 717-231-8459

    UPMC Advanced Heart Failure Center
    Located at UPMC Outpatient Services
    Formerly known as Bloom Outpatient Center
    4310 Londonderry Road
    2nd floor
    Harrisburg, PA 17109
    Phone: 717-920-4201
    Fax: 717-920-4269

    UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute
    360 Alexander Spring Road
    Carlisle, PA 17013

    Adult Cardiology: 717-243-6557
    Pediatric Cardiology: 717-761-0200
    Fax: 717-243-0102

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