Preventing heart failure

Many of the factors that increase your risk of developing heart failure can be managed either by making lifestyle changes or by taking medicines.

In particular, high blood pressure (hypertension) and smoking are risks for heart health, and tackling them could help reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

Stop smoking

Giving up smoking (if you smoke) is likely to be the single biggest way to cut your risk of developing coronary heart disease and heart failure. Tobacco smoke can damage your heart in a number of ways, forcing it to work harder.

Smoking also tends to make the blood thicker and slows down blood flow, increasing the risk of blood clots (thrombosis). It damages the linings of the arteries, causing them to fur up. This furring up of the arteries (atherosclerosis) is a main cause of coronary heart disease, stroke and some forms of dementia.

Research has shown that you are up to four times more likely to give up smoking successfully if you use NHS support, together with stop-smoking medicines. Ask your GP about this or visit the NHS Smokefree website for more information.

Reduce your blood pressure

If your blood pressure is too high, your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body. To cope with the extra effort, the heart muscle thickens over time, and will eventually become too stiff or weak to work properly.

Keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level can stop or delay this happening so it may be useful to have your blood pressure checked regularly.

It may be necessary to take blood pressure medicines (usually more than one) to get your blood pressure down to a healthy level. It is important you and your doctor choose the medicine or combination of medicines that will suit you.

Reduce your cholesterol level

High levels of cholesterol (fat) in your blood can cause furring and narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), heart attacks and strokes.

The risk of coronary heart disease – and therefore heart failure – increases as the level of cholesterol in your blood increases. If you have other risk factors, such as high blood pressure or you smoke, the risk is even higher.

If your cholesterol level is too high, your doctor will usually first advise you to make some changes to your diet (switching to a low-fat diet) and to take plenty of regular exercise.

If, after a few months, your cholesterol level has not decreased, you will usually need to take cholesterol-lowering medicines called statins.

Lose weight

If you are overweight, added pressure will be placed on your heart, increasing your risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack. Both of these make heart failure more likely.

Following the advice below will help you lose weight, as well as lowering your risk of developing heart failure.

Eat a healthy diet

A healthy diet can help reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease and therefore heart failure.

If you already have heart problems, eating healthily can help protect your heart from getting worse, as well as protecting you from other diseases, such as diabetes and some types of cancer.

Keep active

Regular physical activity can keep your heart healthy and help you maintain a healthy weight.

You do not need to join a gym or start running marathons, but including exercise in your daily routine will help. If you do not have a good level of mobility, you may be able to do arm or wheechair-based exercises.

Drink within safe limits

Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol can increase your blood pressure, which can lead to heart failure.

Heavy drinking over a number of years can damage your heart muscle and lead directly to heart failure, as well as having many other harmful effects on your health.

Men who regularly drink more than three to four units of alcohol a day, and women who regularly drink more than two to three units a day are likely to be damaging their health.

Read more about cutting down your alcohol consumption.

Cut your salt intake

Too much salt can raise your blood pressure, so reducing the amount you eat will help keep your blood pressure down and reduce your risk of developing heart failure.

People of African-Caribbean descent appear to be more at risk of the harmful effects of salt compared with people from other ethnic groups.

However, it is rarely helpful or necessary to have a diet that is very low in salt. Avoiding adding salt to food at the table or during cooking and not eating too much obvious salty foods, such as curry, salted snacks and pizza, is a good start.


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