Exercise and Activity with Heart Failure
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Work and Heart Failure

There is no reason to stop working just because you have been diagnosed with heart failure. In fact, working can help decrease feelings of isolation and depression. It can also help your finances. At first you may feel that working is impossible, especially if you have a lot of symptoms or have been hospitalized. So, it may be helpful to avoid making long-term decisions about work until your medical therapy is optimized and you are feeling better.

It can be helpful to think about work as a type of physical activity. You may have to increase the number of hours you work slowly to help your body adjust, especially if you have a physically demanding job, or if you have taken time off recently. It may also be necessary to modify your job, so that you can return to it successfully.

If you have a job where you sit a lot of the time, you probably will be able to return to it without many changes. But if you have a job that requires physical labor, you may need to move to a less strenuous one. Similarly, if your job is mentally demanding and stressful, you may have to figure out a way to decrease the stress. If you can not return to your usual job, you might check with your employer to see if you can work part-time or at light duty.

Each person's situation is different. But use the following guidelines to help make decisions about work:
  • Postpone going back to work until your symptoms stabilize and your medical therapy has been adjusted to its optimal level.

  • Increase your stamina by working on your activity program. Then you will have more energy to do your job.

  • If you have had to limit your activities because of heart failure, consider going back to work half time and working up to full time.

You should also talk to your doctor or nurse about returning to work. He or she may want to perform an exercise test that simulates the intensity of your work to see how well you do.

Although many people with heart failure can continue to work in some capacity, some people will not be able to do so. People with severe heart failure who are in the New York Hospital Association (NYHA) class IV usually can not work and may be eligible for disability. (The NYHA classification system is one way to classify a person's heart disease.) If you can not return to work, ask your doctor or social worker about the level and duration of disability. You may be eligible for benefits through either your employer or Social Security.

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