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End of Life Signs in Congestive Heart Failure: What to Expect

end stage heart failure

Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart muscle becomes damaged and can no longer pump blood effectively. Although symptoms can be managed, this is a chronic condition with no cure. In time, patients will reach the end stage of congestive heart failure.

More than 6 million adults in the United States experience heart failure. As the disease progresses to its final stages, understanding what lies ahead becomes crucial for both patients and their loved ones. Recognizing the signs of the end of life in someone with congestive heart failure is key to ensuring comfort, making informed decisions about care, and preparing emotionally and practically for what’s to come.

End stage congestive heart failure symptoms.

While not all the end-of-life signs may be present in the final days of Congestive Heart Failure, below is a general outline of what can be expected. If you have any questions, please contact us by selecting an option from the bar above. We are here for you 24/7.

1. Dyspnea.

Dyspnea, or shortness of breath, is common during activity throughout CHF, but it becomes more persistent towards the end of life. Patients will start experiencing dyspnea during rest as well. This is the symptom that often sends patients racing to the hospital late at night. Work with your hospice or palliative care team to manage symptoms at home and avoid these stressful hospital trips.

2. Chronic cough.

Chronic cough also becomes more prominent in the final months and weeks of congestive heart failure. When the heart cannot keep up with the supply of blood moving between it and the lungs, fluid can build up in the lungs. This results in a chronic cough or wheezing that can produce white or pink mucus.

3. Edema.

As the heart’s ability to pump slows down, fluid can build up in the body. This creates swelling in the extremities – particularly the feet, ankles, legs, or abdomen.

4. Lack of appetite.

As the digestive system receives less blood, patients may feel full or nauseous. Not wanting to eat is a natural part of the body shutting down, and it’s okay for your loved one to stop eating and drinking on hospice. But families often find this distressing.

5. High heart rate.

In response to a loss in pumping capacity, the heart begins to beat faster. The patient experiences this as a racing or throbbing heartbeat.

6. Confusion.

As with any chronic, life-threatening illness, some confusion and delirium can be expected. When the heart stops working effectively, it can change sodium levels in the blood. This leads to memory loss, confusion, and a general feeling of disorientation.

Tips for managing congestive heart failure end-of-life signs.

It’s only natural that you as a loved one and/or caregiver will want to be as helpful as possible and ensure that your loved one is experiencing as little pain as possible. Here’s some ways you can help:

  • Communicate with the doctors and healthcare professionals: Your loved one may be too weak, or simply forget, to communicate their symptoms to the doctors and nurses. You can help by sharing this information with them in order to make sure your loved one gets what they need.
  • Provide comfort: Sometimes it is just as simple as spending time with your loved one while watching a TV show, or talking about things they love. These conversations can help in alleviating some of their depression and anxiety.
  • Help them remember to take their medicine: There will likely be various pills and medications that your loved one needs to take. You can help by assisting your loved one in staying on schedule.
  • Learn how to recognize the end-of-life signs for CHF, and when you should contact hospice. Hospice care will be able to address the specific needs of CHF patients in their final days and help them to get the most out of what time they have left. It is critical to engage a hospice organization before the end, to allow for as much quality of life at the end of life as possible.

Hospice eligibility for end-stage congestive heart failure.

When a heart failure patient has been diagnosed with six months or less to live, the added support of hospice care helps them remain in their home until end of life. Learn more about the hospice eligibility requirements for congestive heart failure, or get more information by contacting us with one of the options in the bar above.

Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care provides a team of nurses, aides, social workers, volunteers, and chaplains to support the patient and their family through the final stages of congestive heart failure symptoms. To learn more about referring your patient to hospice, please call Crossroads at 855-327-4677.

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Copyright © 2017 Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care. All rights reserved.

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