Heart failure is a disease that affects more than six million Americans. A heart failure diagnosis means the heart is not pumping as well as it should be and is no longer able to meet the body’s needs. It is one of the most common conditions in people over the age of 65, and the incidence of heart failure is growing with an increasingly elderly population. While it is a chronic and progressive disease, people can live with it for many years if they receive proper treatment.

Types of heart failure

There are two main types of heart failure, systolic and diastolic. Systolic heart failure means the heart muscle is weak and cannot pump with enough force. Diastolic heart failure means the heart muscle is stiff and cannot fill with enough blood in between beats. Common risk factors for heart failure include coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, valvular disease, obesity, viral infection and genetic causes.

Symptoms

Heart failure symptoms include swelling, fatigue, shortness of breath from simple activities, trouble breathing at rest, chest pain and coughing. These can be subtle and are easily mistaken for other illnesses so a heart failure diagnosis can be missed in the early stages. This unfortunately delays many people from seeing a cardiologist. Early diagnosis and treatment of heart failure gives you the best chance at prolonging your life.

If you have already been diagnosed with heart failure, you are established with a cardiologist, and you are managing the condition with medication but your symptoms suddenly worsen or you are admitted to the hospital, it may be time talk to your doctor about making an appointment with an advanced heart failure and transplant specialist.

Treatment

Treatment for heart failure depends on the cause and the severity of the condition. Medication can reduce symptoms of heart failure and slow its progression but cannot cure it.

New, implantable remote-monitoring technology, called CardioMEMS™, can help you manage your blood pressures at home and allows your doctor to detect a heart failure event before it can occur. Your cardiologist can adjust your medications and prevent a hospitalization.

As heart failure progresses, surgical therapy may be necessary. In some cases, coronary artery bypass surgery or valve repair may improve the heart’s function. For patients with end-stage heart failure, mechanical circulatory assist devices are commonly used to treat or manage heart failure. You may need a ventricular assist device, also known as a VAD, which pumps blood from the lower chambers of your heart to the rest of your body. Other options are a total artificial heart or a heart transplant.

For the majority of end-stage heart failure patients, transplant is the gold-standard treatment, but only a small subset of the population can get a heart transplant because of a dire shortage of donor hearts. I ask everyone to strongly consider being an organ donor; you could save up to eight lives.

Most heart transplant candidates receive some form of mechanical support, such as a VAD or total artificial heart, to buy time before a transplant. The wait time for a donor heart for these patients is approximately two years, but some people wait much longer. In some cases, these pumps are destination therapy devices instead of bridges to transplant.

The Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Comprehensive Heart Failure and Transplant Program offers the full spectrum of treatment options, and we are one of the fastest growing advanced heart failure and VAD programs in the nation. Advancements in mechanical support devices are an important focus of cardiac research, as well the as the development of new drugs to treat heart failure. I hope more people will become aware of heart failure symptoms and see a cardiologist sooner. With proper treatment, it is possible for heart failure patients to lead a more normal life.

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Janette
German
on February 13, 2019 - 11:39 am

Husband died of heart failure. Weren’t given satisfactory treatment. Is this condition hereditary?T