Helping Heart Failure Patients Succeed

Nurse Navigator Provides Dedicated Support and Education

Heart failure – the diagnosis sounds scary. It’s the leading cause of hospitalization in people 65 and older. But with the right tools and treatment, patients can successfully manage this chronic disease.

Congestive heart failure, often called heart failure for short, occurs when the heart muscle no longer works as it should. The heart muscle walls can become too weak to pump blood out of the heart or they can become stiff so the heart doesn’t fill properly. Classic symptoms are shortness of breath during activity, fatigue and swelling.

Heart failure does not usually occur suddenly—symptoms happen gradually over time. Causes include coronary artery disease, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, lung disease and aortic stenosis. Although there is no cure for heart failure, progression of the disease can be dramatically slowed. Heart function can improve with medication, exercise, better nutrition and better self-management skills.

Lexington Medical Center treats about 800 patients a year with congestive heart failure as a primary diagnosis. Because of the importance and prominence of the disease, the hospital recently hired a nurse navigator specifically dedicated to helping patients with heart failure. Jenny Dailey, RN, MSN, spends her day supporting and educating patients with this disease.

“My job is to serve as the patient’s advocate,” Jenny said. “I visit with patients in the hospital and help determine what resources they need. That could include educating them about various ways to manage their disease or making sure they have follow-up appointments with their doctors after they leave the hospital. I also work with the family members and caregivers to make sure they understand the disease and how they can best help their loved ones.”

Jenny says monitoring weight gain is one of the most important ways patients can control their disease. “Patients need to understand the importance of a digital scale and daily weigh-ins,” she said. “A weight gain of three pounds in one day or five pounds in one week is significant for a patient with congestive heart failure because the weight gain is a result of fluid. Daily monitoring of weight is a simple yet quick way to determine if a patient is retaining fluid.”

A grant from the Lexington Medical Center Foundation funds digital scales for heart failure patients at the hospital. Upon admission, patients receive the scales and use them during their hospital stay while they learn about the importance of monitoring and managing their weight. They take the scales home with them after leaving the hospital so they can continue weighing themselves, recording their weight daily and reporting rapid weight gain to their doctor.

In addition to weight management, reducing sodium in the diet is important. Reading food labels and identifying the sodium content of food is important for patients with congestive heart failure.

But one of the most critical steps a patient can take after a hospital stay for heart failure is to participate in cardiac rehabilitation, which offers physician-prescribed exercise, risk factor modification and a psychological assessment to help evaluate a patient’s emotional status as it relates to their heart.

Support for heart failure patients at Lexington Medical Center continues beyond their hospital stay. “I want my patients to call me once they’re discharged if they have questions regarding anything,” said Jenny. “I want them to know that I am their advocate.”

To learn more about the Lexington Medical Center Foundation and how it helps patients, visit LMCFoundation.com

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