What is a heart failure action plan?

If you have heart failure, you need to know how to quickly spot the early warning signs and symptoms of worsening disease — and what to do if any changes occur. You might wonder: Should you simply call your doctor if a change occurs? Or do you need to go straight to a hospital? Knowing what to do and when can be challenging and may be overwhelming if you don't have a strategy in place.

That's why cardiologists recommend that everyone with heart failure have an action plan to help guide their self-care at home. A heart failure action plan — or self-check plan — provides clear instructions for you and your caregivers to follow should any new signs or symptoms develop. Together you and your doctor can customize a plan that's best for your specific type and class of heart failure and your functional abilities.

According to the American Heart Association, a typical plan may fall into three zones:

  • Green = Stable. You don't have any noticeable changes in heart failure signs or symptoms. Your weight is stable. You don't have chest pain or shortness of breath. Continue your daily weight checks and treatment plan as recommended. Ask your doctor for your target weight.
  • Yellow = Warning. Call your doctor if you have a new cough, shortness of breath with activity, increased swelling in your legs or feet, or if you suddenly gain 2 to 5 pounds within a week. You don't necessarily need an office visit but caution is needed. You may just need diet or medication changes.
  • Red = Danger. Go to the emergency room or call your local emergency number if you have heart failure and have a weight gain of more than 5 pounds in a week, an inability to lie flat, shortness of breath at rest, increased swelling and discomfort in the lower body, or a constant, hacking cough.

Carefully following your action plan can help your doctor more quickly treat any new health issues that develop and better manage your care. Sticking to your self-care or action plans may result in fewer hospital admissions or shorter hospital stays, particularly if you are under age 65.

Also, be sure to tell your doctor if you are feeling sad or depressed. Depression may make it difficult to stick to your action plan and overall treatment. Proper treatment may help you feel better.