When the heart can no longer keep up with the workload of circulating blood throughout the body, heart failure occurs from insufficient oxygen delivery. Luckily, with the proper lifestyle changes and treatment, people who are diagnosed with heart failure can live a long and active life. Through the monitoring and control of risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, the effects of heart failure can be prevented.
What is Congestive Heart Failure?
Congestive heart failure is a condition that occurs when the heart muscle fails to pump the necessary amount of blood throughout your body to meet its needs. The loss of efficiency comes from the heart muscle becoming too weak or stiff to function at full capacity. Congestive heart failure is often a result of conditions that weaken the heart muscle. These include coronary artery disease, when heart arteries narrow, or high blood pressure. Common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath when you exercise or lie down
- Fatigue or weakness
- Swelling in your abdomen, legs, ankles and feet
- Fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
- Difficulty doing physical activity
- Frequent cough or wheezing with white or pink foamy mucus
- Sudden fluid buildup
- Lack of appetite and nausea
- Difficulty concentrating or reduced alertness
- Chest pain – Call 9-1-1 immediately if this symptom is present
Treatment of Heart Failure:
When symptoms of heart failure are caught early on, it can be treated through non-surgical methods. Making lifestyle changes is the best form of action, and this can make congestive heart failure symptoms less severe. Doctors typically recommend the following:
- Quit Smoking – The heart and blood vessels are damaged by smoking. Luckily there are programs that can help you quit.
- Healthy Eating – Changing your diet is a great way to slow the effects of heart failure. It’s recommended that you limit fats, cholesterol, sodium and alcohol. Dieticians are great resources for helping you create an eating plan that is best suited for your needs.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight – Your health can also be improved through specialized weight-loss plans that are constructed specifically for people who have been diagnosed with heart failure.
- Physical Activity – Before embarking on a new exercise program, it is recommended that you talk with your doctor. You should ease into the right program, routine physical activity will help to keep your body healthy, in efforts to lessen heart failure progression. Often times cardiac rehabilitation programs are recommended as well.
The medications prescribed to heart failure patients are used to treat specific causes of your condition. A wide range of medicines area available to lessen symptoms associated with the disease. The proper medications combined with lifestyle changes and/or surgical procedures, can be an effective form of treatment for congestive heart failure.
When congestive heart failure is at a more advanced stage and requires surgery, there are several different kinds of procedures available to treat what is causing the symptoms. Depending on the severity of your condition, the following treatments would be recommended.
- Angioplasty and Stenting* – If the cause of congestive heart failure is blocked or clogged arteries, also known as coronary artery disease, angioplasty and stenting procedures are performed to restore proper blood flow to the heart. First a catheter and balloon are inserted to restore the blocked artery, and then a wire mesh tube is positioned to open the artery up fully and keep it in position and maintain natural blood flow.
- Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery* – When multiple arteries are blocked, doctors recommend coronary artery bypass surgery. It is a more invasive procedure that allows surgeons to open the chest cavity to insert new blood vessels in the heart. This helps to open up new passages of blood flood around blocked arteries, returning the flow of blood back to normal.
- Heart Rhythm Procedures – For advanced cases of heart failure, doctors recommend mechanical devices that can keep your heart beating at a regular rhythm. For example, an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), is implanted under the skin and attaches to the heart. If the heart’s rhythm is detected as irregular, it will shock it back to normal. Or in the event that the left and right sides of the heart aren’t working together efficiently, a cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT)* procedure is performed to improve coordination and enable proper pumping from all portions of the heart. In the most extreme cases, Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVADs)* are used. These devices are external pumps that help weakened parts of the heart function. They are most often used to keep heart transplant patients alive while waiting for a heart donor, or to improve the quality of life for people who are suffering from severe congestive heart failure.
Congestive Heart Failure Diagnosis and Treatment
When you experience symptoms of heart failure and are seeking medical care, you can feel confident knowing your condition will be managed by a team of heart specialists that work together to assess your needs. After a full analysis of your condition, your cardiologist will put together a treatment plan that is tailored specifically to you.
Personalized Care from Heart Specialists
The following UVM Health Network team of specialists are available to provide you with the attentive care and support you need to prevent the effects of heart disease:
- General Cardiologists
- Congestive Heart Failure Specialists*
- Interventional Cardiologists*
- Cardiac Electrophysiologists
- Cardiothoracic Surgeons*
*Indicate specialists and treatments only available at the Network level.
To make an appointment with one of our specialists, please call 802-225-5660