How often you'll see your doctor for heart failure
If you have heart failure, you may see your usual health professional or a doctor who focuses on the heart (a cardiologist). You may see both doctors. In some cases, you might get treatment from a heart failure specialist, which is a cardiologist who focuses on heart failure.
How often you see your doctor mostly depends on how bad your heart failure symptoms are.
- If you have mild to moderate heart failure, you may see your doctor 2 or 3 times a year. You might speak with a nurse or physician assistant in your doctor's office more often to answer questions between visits.
- If you have more severe symptoms, you will probably see your cardiologist more often, maybe once a month or even once a week. Your doctor may also ask you to call or visit the nursing staff often so they can watch for changes in your health. If your heart failure is bad enough, your doctor may have a nurse see you at your home. But usually even very bad heart failure can be managed well with small changes in your medicines every few months.
To keep an eye on your heart failure, your doctor or nurse will:
- See how you're doing. Your doctor will look for signs that your heart failure is worse. These include weight gain, increased ankle swelling, and trouble breathing while you're lying flat. Your doctor may also listen for "crackles" in your lungs.
- Keep track of your symptoms and how well you can exercise. This is an important way for you and your doctor to see if your heart failure is getting worse. You can keep a record of how much exercise you can do and what types of activities you can do without symptoms. This will help you and your doctor decide what changes to make in your care.
- Check your electrolytes. Several of the medicines for heart failure can affect important minerals (called electrolytes) in the blood. For example, diuretics can lower the amount of potassium and magnesium in the blood and can also decrease sodium and calcium. Low potassium, magnesium, or calcium can all raise your risk of having a deadly abnormal rhythm.
- Watch for side effects of your medicines. Each of the medicines for heart failure has side effects. It's important to talk to your doctor right away if you get any of the side effects or any new symptoms.
- Check your blood pressure and heart rate. Write down your blood pressure and heart rate in a notebook when you have them checked. Bring this notebook to your doctor visits. It's also a good idea to learn how to check your blood pressure and heart rate yourself. Your doctor can give you a range of blood pressure and heart rates that are okay for you and tell you what to do if your numbers are outside these ranges.
- Check your weight. Your weight is a sign of how much fluid you have in your body. With heart failure, your body will always tend to hold onto salt and water. You should weigh yourself at the same time every day and write it down. Call your doctor if you notice a sudden weight gain. Your doctor may tell you how much weight to watch for. But in general, call your doctor if you gain 3 lb (1.4 kg) or more in 2 to 3 days.