Heart failure is a chronic, progressive disease. St. Luke’s heart failure team of nurses and advanced care providers can help you minimize heart failure symptoms, prevent further heart damage, and make heart-healthy lifestyle changes so you can enjoy life to its fullest.
St. Luke’s Heart Failure Program uses a team approach to diagnosis and treatment by working with physicians such as interventional cardiologists, electrophysiologists, structural heart and cardiothoracic surgeons as well as expertly trained advanced practitioners, nurses, and exercise physiologists. Treatments may include cutting edge devices such as biventricular pacemakers and internal defibrillators as well as a combination of medication.
Expertise in Caring for Your Heart
St. Luke’s University Health Network is nationally recognized for expertise in cardiology by the American College of Cardiologists and the American Heart Association.
Be an Active Partner in Your Heart Failure Care Plan
The term ‘heart failure’ means that the heart cannot keep up with its workload. Your body depends on the heart’s pumping action to deliver oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the body’s cells. With heart failure, the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen.
At first, the heart tries to make up for this by enlarging, developing more mass and pumping faster. The body also tries to compensate by narrowing its blood vessels and by diverting blood away from less important tissues and organs. These temporary measures mask the problem of heart failure, but they don’t solve it. Heart failure continues and worsens until these compensating processes no longer work. Eventually, the heart and body just can’t keep up, and the person experiences the fatigue, breathing problems or other symptoms that usually prompt a trip to the doctor or hospital.
An important term to understand is Ejection Fraction (EF) which refers to how well your left ventricle (or right ventricle) pumps blood with each heartbeat. A normal heart’s left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) ranges from 55-70%. Your EF can go up and down, based on your heart condition and how well your treatment works.
Causes of Heart Failure
Most people who develop heart failure have (or had) another heart condition first. The most common conditions that can lead to heart failure are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and previous heart attack. However, other conditions, traits or habits may play a role in raising your risk for this disease. These conditions are known as risk factors and include:
Non-modifiable risk factors: These factors are irreversible and cannot be changed. The more of these risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing heart failure.
- Family history (genetics)
- History of heart attacks
Modifiable risk factors: These factors can be modified, treated or controlled through medication or lifestyle changes.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol over the years
- Smoking and/or drug use
- Obesity or having a body mass index “BMI” of 30 or greater
Other conditions that contribute to developing heart failure:
- Heart valve disease
- Heart arrhythmias (irregular beats)
- Congenital heart disease
- Thyroid disease: a condition that is caused by the over or under function of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is an essential organ for producing thyroid hormones, which maintains the body’s metabolism
- Low red blood cell count
- Severe lung disease
Symptoms of Heart Failure
There may be times that your symptoms are mild or you may not have any symptoms at all. This does not mean you no longer have heart failure. Symptoms of heart failure can range from mild to severe, and they may come and go. In general, heart failure gets worse over time. As it worsens, you may have more or different signs or symptoms. It is important to let your doctor know if you have new symptoms or if your symptoms get worse. Common signs and symptoms of heart failure include:
- Confusion or impaired thinking
- Decreased appetite
- Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged phlegm
- Rapid weight gain from fluid
- Rapid heart rate (tachycardia) of more than 100 beats per minute
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of the legs, ankles, feet and abdomen
Diagnosis of Heart Failure
To diagnose heart failure, your doctor will take a careful review of your medical history, symptoms and perform a physical examination. Using a stethoscope, your doctor can also listen to your lungs for signs of congestion and for any abnormal heart sounds. The doctor may examine the veins in your neck and check for fluid buildup in your abdomen and legs as well. After that you may have:
- Blood tests
- Echocardiogram (ECHO)
- Electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG)
- Stress test
- Cardiac catheterization
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Treatment of Heart Failure
Heart failure is a chronic disease needing lifelong management. However, with treatment, signs and symptoms of heart failure can improve, and the heart sometimes becomes stronger. Treatment options include:
- Track daily fluid intake
- Participate in cardiac rehabilitation program (link to cardiac rehab)
- No more than 7-8 hours of sleep per night
- Avoid or limit caffeine consumption
- Keep track of your symptoms
- Manage stress
- Make and keep appointments to see your doctor
- Lifestyle changes, including: avoid alcohol, avoid smoking, eat a heart-healthy diet and if you are overweight talk to your practitioner about weight loss options
To learn more, watch our educational video.