Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Dr. Deborah Budge of the Intermountain Heart Institute is photographed at the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013.

SALT LAKE CITY — It is important for heart failure patients and those with heart disease to feel comfortable being active, doctors said Saturday.

"Diet and exercise can do a lot for a recovering patient," said Dr. Deborah Budge, a cardiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute. The institute offers a cardiac rehabilitation facility, where, if insurance companies permit, patients can receive an individualized exercise plan to help them get back on track to a healthy life.

"For a patient who has had a heart attack and been in the hospital, when a doctor tells them to go home and exercise, it's sometimes scary for them. They don't know what is safe and what their bodies and hearts can handle," Budge said. "This gives them an idea of what they can do."

Many heart patients, who are typically in their 50s or older, can't afford a gym membership or aren't up for going out, especially when the weather turns bad. Medication can help to strengthen a heart, but the doctor said diet and exercise are equally important.

"Our goal is to keep them out of the hospital," said Margaret Moses, who works as a nurse practitioner at the institute. She said patients learn during clinic visits to do things that help them feel better and be at their best.

Budge and Moses fielded dozens of questions from participants who either called or messaged during the Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline Saturday. Some individuals, depending on their condition and medical history, were encouraged to get the situation checked out by a physician at their earliest convenience.

Chest pain, Budge said, can be serious.

The pain could be due to lung problems, like pneumonia, a blood clot or even muscle inflammation and other causes, including a viral infection that causes a cough. Chronic coughing, however, could be due to fluid backing into the lungs, which can be a symptom of heart failure.

Callers were cautioned to monitor salt and sodium intake in order to keep heart problems at bay. Salt, Budge said, can cause the body to hold onto extra fluid, which can increase blood pressure.

Medications are also important for heart failure patients. While individuals with heart disease can practice various lifestyle modifications to ward off further illness, those with heart failure must continue taking their prescribed medications in order to avoid cyclical hospitalization.

It doesn't take long for symptoms to return, including shortness of breath, fluid retention and overall weakness, Budge said. But, she said, just because a patient has been diagnosed with heart failure, doesn't mean they will die soon. Many factors are calculated when figuring overall quality of life.

The health hotline is offered to readers through a partnership between Intermountain Healthcare and the Deseret News. It covers a different health topic the second Saturday of each month.

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