Heart Failure: Salt and Fluids

Heart failure can lead to a backup of fluids in the body. This extra fluid will cause swelling in the legs and belly. It also increases the workload on the heart. The weaker the heart, the more fluid will build up.

Salt also affects the balance of fluid in your body. Your body does need some salt to be able to work well. However, high amounts of salt will make your body hold on to water. This will happen no matter how healthy your heart is. However, since extra water increases the workload on the heart, it can worsen heart failure. This leads to even more fluid buildup.

You and your care team will make a heart failure plan. Part will include how to monitor your fluid levels as well as decrease risk of buildup. The following are basic steps.

Track Your Weight

Part of heart failure care is to track your weight every day. This will show fluid changes through sudden changes in weight. Taking steps as soon as weight increases can prevent a worsening of fluid buildup and strain on the heart.

Weigh yourself at the same time every day. If you have more than a 2- to 3-pound gain in 24 hours or more than 5 pounds in a week, call your care team. Treatment can help to get rid of the extra fluid. It may be a temporary treatment or change in your overall treatment plan.

Follow Food Plan

It is always a good idea to follow a heart healthy diet. A large part of this diet is to be aware of salt intake. Most salt in our diets comes from processed foods and drinks. Cook most of your meals at home. Use fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins. Read food labels to check sodium (salt) levels. Choose low-salt options when possible.

Severe heart failure may need more steps. Your care team may ask you to have a very low-salt diet. You may also need to carefully track how much fluid you take in. Not everyone will need these steps.


The kidneys pass fluid and salt out in the urine. Medicine can increase the amount that they pass out. This can help to get rid of extra fluid in the body. It may improve swelling in legs or belly and ease strain on the heart. These medicines are called diuretics (water pills). There are many different types. Your care team will find the one that works best for you.

Fluid buildup is one of the earliest signs of heart failure. Knowing how to track it and treat it will help you stay on top of your heart failure.


American Heart Association
Heart Failure Association of America


Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada


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Accessed: May 21, 2019.
Last reviewed May 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Peter Oettgen, MD
Last Updated: 10/15/2019

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