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Living With Heart Failure During the Holidays

Several years ago, a study published in the Clinical Research in Cardiology journal reported that hospitalizations for heart failure patients tend to spike just after the holidays. Experts presume some unhealthy holiday habits – like eating high-salt foods, lack of exercise and the stress associated with travel may contribute to these numbers.

Here at WakeMed, we know the holidays are a special time to spend with family and friends – not a time to stress about managing your heart failure. Here are some important tips to make sure you can enjoy every moment of the holidays and well into the new year.


Party food is often dangerously high in sodium and it’s easy to get carried away in the moment.

If you love holiday gatherings but stress about what to eat, offer to bring something you know fits your diet. You can also ward off temptation by eating just before you head to the party. If you need to munch, nibble on fresh vegetables or fruit or keep a stash of unsalted nuts with you for easy snacking.


For most heart failure patients, this means keeping up with your medications, weighing yourself daily and getting enough sleep.

If you travel – make sure to bring a scale with you and have all your medicines refilled and packed before you leave.

Weighing daily is critical – if you gain two pounds or more overnight or three pounds in a week – reach out to your physician right away. Finally, sleep is an important time for your body to renew. If you have a CPAP machine, be sure to bring it with you on your travels.


For patients with heart failure, stress should be avoided at all costs.

That’s because when your body experiences stress, your adrenaline and hormone levels can rise. This can cause an increased heart rate and heavy breathing – both of which will cause your heart to work harder. To avoid stress, take care of yourself and try to avoid situations that may cause additional stress – even if it means saying no to a friend or loved one.


If your heart failure does flare up during the holidays, don’t delay seeking treatment or your condition could worsen.

One of the most likely reasons hospitalizations spike just after the holidays is that people have ignored symptoms or waited to get treatment due to travel or because they’re worried they will disrupt the holiday fun. Be sure to listen to your body and communicate with your family if you start feeling like something just isn’t right.


The holidays can be a busy time, but don’t forget that exercise is one of the most important ways to keep heart failure under control. That’s because exercise spurs the growth of new cells, which can help repair weakened muscles and help form new blood vessels. Even if you’re out of your normal routine, you can go for a brisk walk just about anywhere you may travel.

Remember, some exercise is better than none at all, so if you can only sneak in 10-15 minutes, go for it!

While the holidays can be a tough time for those diagnosed with heart failure, some thoughtful planning and a strong dose of will power can help ensure you enjoy this special time of year with
your friends and family.

Have a happy, healthy holiday!

About Coleen Hanson Smith

Coleen Hanson Smith is a freelance healthcare writer with 20 years of editorial, PR and marketing experience. She’s passionate about doing work that matters. As such, Coleen’s specialty areas are aligned with her personal passions which include: healthcare/hospital/physician practice/health & wellness; technology/B2B; parenting; and philanthropy/non-profit.