Managing Acute Heart Failure Exacerbation

Assignment Question

Heart Failure Patient Profile M.G. is a 77-year-old woman who saw her health care provider for dyspnea. She is now being admitted to the hospital for acute heart failure (HF). She was diagnosed with HF 6 years ago. She is currently taking the following medications: Furosemide 40 mg PO daily Potassium chloride 20 mEq PO daily Enalapril 10 mg by mouth BID Subjective Data Was taking furosemide at home but ran out 2 days ago and has not been able to refill her prescription Complains of difficulty breathing; had to “sleep in the chair” last night Has some swelling in her feet that is worse than usual Objective Data Physical Examination Temperature 98.4° F, pulse 92, respirations 24, blood pressure 144/86, oxygen saturation 89% on room air Height 5’5”, weight 170 lb Alert and oriented to person, place, and time Fine crackles bilateral lower lobes Shortness of breath with minimal exertion S1 and S2 without murmur or extra heart sounds Capillary refill sluggish in lower extremities, normal in upper extremities 2+ pitting edema bilateral lower extremities Interprofessional Care Admission orders include: Oxygen 2 L per nasal cannula Furosemide 40 mg intravenous BID Enalapril 10 mg by mouth BID ECG now Vital signs with pulse oximetry every 4 hours 2-gram sodium diet Accurate 24-hour intake and output (I/O) Daily weight answer the following questions 1) What contributed to M.G.’s exacerbation? 2) What other testing would you expect the doctor to order and why? 3) What education would you provide for this patient?



M.G., a 77-year-old woman, is currently being admitted to the hospital for acute heart failure (HF) after presenting with dyspnea. She has a history of HF diagnosed six years ago and is on a medication regimen including Furosemide, Potassium chloride, and Enalapril. Subjectively, she mentioned running out of Furosemide two days ago and has been experiencing worsening shortness of breath, necessitating her to sleep in a chair. She has also noticed increased swelling in her feet. On examination, her vital signs are notable for a respiratory rate of 24, blood pressure of 144/86, and oxygen saturation of 89% on room air. This paper will discuss the factors contributing to M.G.’s exacerbation, the additional testing that might be ordered by the doctor, and the education that should be provided to this patient.

Contributors to M.G.’s Exacerbation

M.G.’s acute HF exacerbation can be attributed to several factors. The discontinuation of Furosemide, a loop diuretic, which she was taking at home, likely resulted in a sudden fluid retention due to impaired diuresis (Bhatt & Vaduganathan, 2018). Her complaint of having to sleep in a chair is indicative of orthopnea, a classic symptom of HF, further corroborating the fluid overload (Yancy & Jessup, 2017). In addition, the increased swelling in her feet is a sign of worsening peripheral edema, which is consistent with HF decompensation. Objective data such as the fine crackles in her bilateral lower lobes and 2+ pitting edema in the lower extremities are characteristic findings in HF exacerbations, further affirming the diagnosis (Bhatt & Vaduganathan, 2018). Furthermore, her oxygen saturation of 89% on room air highlights the presence of hypoxemia, a common consequence of acute HF exacerbation (Yancy & Jessup, 2017). These clinical indicators suggest that M.G.’s exacerbation is primarily due to inadequate medication management, leading to fluid retention and consequent decompensation of her HF.

Inadequate fluid management, as seen in M.G.’s case, is a frequent contributor to acute HF exacerbations (Bhatt & Vaduganathan, 2018). It is crucial for patients with HF to adhere to their prescribed diuretic therapy consistently. Furosemide, in particular, is essential for managing fluid balance in HF patients, as it promotes the excretion of excess sodium and water, thus reducing fluid overload (Yancy & Jessup, 2017). The discontinuation of Furosemide, even for a short period, can result in a rapid accumulation of fluid, leading to symptoms of acute HF. Patient education regarding the importance of medication adherence and the potential consequences of non-compliance is paramount. The healthcare team should stress the significance of taking medications as prescribed, even when patients may feel better, to prevent acute exacerbations.

Additional Testing for M.G.

To better manage M.G.’s acute HF exacerbation, several tests are expected to be ordered by the doctor. Given the severity of her condition, an electrocardiogram (ECG) should be conducted promptly (Yancy & Jessup, 2017). ECG can reveal any arrhythmias or changes in cardiac electrical activity, aiding in the diagnosis and assessment of HF severity. Additionally, chest X-rays may be ordered to evaluate the extent of pulmonary congestion and rule out any other underlying pulmonary conditions (Bhatt & Vaduganathan, 2018). Pulmonary congestion is a hallmark of HF exacerbation, and chest X-rays can provide a visual representation of the severity of congestion, guiding treatment decisions.

Blood tests, such as brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) levels, can assist in assessing the degree of cardiac stress and further guide the management (Bhatt & Vaduganathan, 2018). Elevated BNP levels are associated with increased cardiac stress and are indicative of HF exacerbation. Echocardiography might be indicated to assess cardiac function, ejection fraction, and valvular abnormalities (Yancy & Jessup, 2017). Moreover, a complete blood count (CBC) can help identify possible infections or anemia, which could exacerbate HF symptoms. In M.G.’s case, anemia might worsen her symptoms, leading to further fatigue and weakness. By conducting these tests, the healthcare team can obtain a comprehensive understanding of M.G.’s condition, tailor treatment to her specific needs, and monitor her response to therapy more effectively.

Patient Education

Patient education is a crucial aspect of managing HF. M.G. should be educated about the importance of medication adherence and not discontinuing her prescribed medications, especially diuretics like Furosemide (Bhatt & Vaduganathan, 2018). She needs to understand the significance of following a low-sodium diet, as indicated by the 2-gram sodium diet order. Monitoring her daily weight and recognizing weight gain can help her identify early signs of fluid retention. She should be educated on recognizing symptoms of HF exacerbation, such as orthopnea, and should be advised to report them promptly. Additionally, M.G. needs to comprehend the significance of oxygen therapy and the rationale behind it. Teaching her to use oxygen at home, as prescribed, can improve her oxygen saturation and overall well-being. In conclusion, patient education plays a pivotal role in preventing HF exacerbations and promoting effective self-management.

In addition to medication adherence and lifestyle modifications, emotional support and mental health management are integral components of HF patient care (Bhatt & Vaduganathan, 2018). Patients with HF often experience anxiety and depression due to the chronic nature of their condition and the limitations it imposes on their daily life. Integrating psychological support and counseling into the care plan can help patients like M.G. cope with the emotional challenges that accompany their diagnosis. Moreover, involving the patient’s family in the education and care process is crucial, as they play a pivotal role in providing emotional support and ensuring adherence to the treatment plan.


In conclusion, the management of acute heart failure (HF) exacerbations, as exemplified by M.G.’s case, demands a multifaceted approach. Beyond medical interventions, patient education is crucial, empowering individuals to self-manage their condition through medication adherence, dietary modifications, and recognizing early signs of exacerbation. HF not only affects patients physically but also emotionally, leading to anxiety and depression, necessitating emotional support and psychological counseling. Additionally, a multidisciplinary healthcare team is vital, with physicians, nurses, dietitians, and therapists collaborating to comprehensively address the patient’s care needs. In summary, a holistic approach, encompassing medical, emotional, and collaborative aspects, is the key to improving the quality of life and outcomes for HF patients. This comprehensive strategy ensures that patients receive the best care possible and can better manage their condition effectively.


Bhatt, A. S., & Vaduganathan, M. (2018). Heart failure in older adults: mechanisms, diagnostic and therapeutic issues. Journal of Geriatric Cardiology, 15(5), 359–362.

Yancy, C. W., & Jessup, M. (2017). 2017 ACC/AHA/HFSA Focused Update of the 2013 ACCF/AHA Guideline for the Management of Heart Failure: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines and the Heart Failure Society of America. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 70(6), 776–803.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q1: What caused M.G.’s acute heart failure exacerbation?

A1: M.G.’s exacerbation was primarily caused by discontinuing her Furosemide medication, leading to fluid retention and worsening heart failure symptoms.

Q2: What additional tests are typically ordered for patients with acute heart failure like M.G.?

A2: Additional tests may include electrocardiograms (ECG), chest X-rays, brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) blood tests, echocardiography, and complete blood counts (CBC) to assess cardiac function, pulmonary congestion, stress levels, and potential infections.

Q3: What patient education is essential for managing heart failure exacerbations?

A3: Patient education should focus on medication adherence, low-sodium diets, monitoring weight changes, recognizing symptoms of exacerbation, and understanding the importance of oxygen therapy. Additionally, emotional support and involving the patient’s family are crucial aspects of care.