If you can improve your ejection fraction, you may enjoy fewer symptoms.
If you have a heart failure diagnosis, your doctor will likely test to find out your ejection fraction. This number can’t always tell the whole story, but it does help you and your doctor track the progression or improvement of your heart function. Luckily, lifestyle changes and heart failure medicines can help improve your ejection fraction and even reduce symptoms.
Your ejection fraction is the percentage of blood that gets squeezed out of the ventricle with each beat. A healthy ejection fraction is around 50 to 70 percent. An ejection fraction of 50 percent means that half of the blood in the left ventricle gets pumped out with each beat. This generally ensures that the body’s organs get the oxygen and nutrients they need to work as they should.
Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction is when that number falls below 50 percent. When this occurs, the body might start to suffer from the low blood flow. You may become easily short of breath and fatigued and have a hard time catching your breath. If your ejection fraction is severely reduced, you may have symptoms even at rest — even when you’re lying in bed.
What are medicines to improve your ejection fraction?
Diagnosing heart failure early and starting treatment may help prevent your ejection fraction from going too low. It can also prevent or slow the progression of heart failure. Still, even if you’re already experiencing symptoms and have a reduced ejection fraction, it’s not too late to start treating heart failure.
Classes of medications that may help improve ejection fraction and heart failure prognosis include:
- Beta blockers
- ACE inhibitors
- Angiotensin receptor blockers
- Neprilysin inhibitors
Another medicine your doctor may prescribe is a diuretic. Generally speaking, medications like diuretics may not necessarily improve your prognosis or your ejection fraction, but they are helpful at reducing symptoms. Heart failure often leads to water retention, which can lead to swelling throughout the body. Diuretics can reduce this and help you feel more comfortable.
What lifestyle changes can help?
Another major aspect of your heart failure treatment is lifestyle changes. You should talk to your doctor before making some of these adjustments. They can help you find the lifestyle changes that are right for you. The following habits may help improve your ejection fraction and reduce symptoms:
- Limit your sodium intake: Too much sodium in the bloodstream pulls more water into your blood vessels. This increases the volume of blood, which may lead to higher blood pressure.
- Avoid drinking too much water: Your doctor will suggest the right amount of water to help you stay hydrated without increasing your blood volume too much.
- Don’t smoke: Cigarettes force the blood to work harder. Smoking may thicken your blood, cause inflammation in the arteries, and increase your blood pressure.
- Limit or avoid alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol is linked to high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which may strain the heart.
- Exercise regularly, especially walking: It’s a myth that you need to rest and take it easy if you have heart failure (or any heart disease). Physical activity can help promote better cardiovascular health and strengthen the heart muscle.
Remember, your ejection fraction is only one factor for your heart failure progression. Sticking to your medication and lifestyle changes may benefit the heart, even if your ejection fraction isn’t changing much.
“If someone is overwhelmed by the ejection fraction numbers, I tell them don't focus on that. Focus on how you feel,” says Marrick Kunik, MD, cardiologist at Northwell Health in New York City. “If you take your medicines and you walk, you're [likely] going to start feeling slowly better.”
Marrick Kukin, MD, is a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health.
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- Get the scoop on sodium and salt. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association, 2018. (Accessed on August 2, 2021)
- Is drinking alcohol part of a healthy lifestyle?. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association, 2019. (Accessed on August 2, 2021)
- Smoking and your heart. Bethesda, MD: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (Accessed on August 2, 2021)