Background Successful self-care in heart failure often requires lifestyle changes such as avoiding sodium, excess fluid intake, alcohol, and tobacco; exercising regularly; and losing weight. The Transtheoretical Model, a framework for making behavioral changes, proposes that change requires a series of stages.

Objectives To identify the stage of readiness for change in 6 lifestyle behaviors important in heart failure and to determine differences in signs and symptoms of heart failure, self-reported knowledge of the disease, and self-reported behavior between patients who have taken action and patients who have not.

Method A mail survey of 250 patients with heart failure.

Results Most respondents reported consistent avoidance of tobacco (90.6%), alcohol (87.9%), sodium (81%), and excess fluid (72.6%) and regular participation in exercise (67.1%) and trying to lose weight (64.7%). Yet only 38.7% had a regular exercise program, and 94.2% had eaten high-sodium foods in the preceding 24 hours. Knowledge of heart failure was low (mean score, 67.4%) and did not differ by stage of change. Only 30.4% of the respondents were at their desired weight, and most overweight subjects had been trying to lose weight for more than 6 months.

Conclusions Although respondents thought they were consistently adhering to recommended guidelines for changes in lifestyle, actual reported behaviors did not always support this evaluation. Use of the stage of change tool to assess stage of readiness to make lifestyle changes may not work well in patients with heart failure, perhaps because of the number and complexity of the changes needed.

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