It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.
It’s a big misconception that heart failure is untreatable. Despite its name, heart failure can be managed in a number of ways to reduce symptoms, prolong life, and keep you out of the hospital.
“There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to heart failure management,” says Michelle W. Bloom, MD, cardio-oncologist at Stony Brook Medical Center. “You would really need to understand your particular situation … in order to really best tailor that therapy to your individual situation.”
If you’ve been diagnosed with heart failure, your treatment plan may consist of one or more of the following components:
Medications: There are a number of effective medications to treat heart failure available, including beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and diuretics.
Lifestyle changes: This includes regulating water and salt intake and monitoring weight, all of which can help reduce symptoms like swelling or shortness of breath. Learn more about lifestyle changes for heart failure here.
Cardiac rehabilitation: This is essentially a safe environment for cardiac patients to return to physical activity under medical supervision.
Implanted devices: When a patient doesn’t respond to traditional therapies, doctors may recommend something like a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), which is a pump to support blood flow to the rest of the body. Learn more here about surgical options for heart failure.
Heart transplant: A transplant is only used for advanced heart failure patients. Candidates for heart transplant may have to wait months or years for a new heart to be available, so an LVAD may be implanted during the wait.
Regardless of your heart failure treatment plan, you will be supported by a team of medical experts, including a cardiologist, nurses, electrophysiologists (who specialize in heart rhythm disturbances), surgeons, your primary care doctor, and—perhaps most importantly—you, the patient.
“A diagnosis of heart failure can be overwhelming to anybody,” says Dr. Bloom. “It is so important for patients to feel comfortable and empowered to bring any and all of their concerns to their doctor and their whole heart failure team, so that we can help you live your best life with heart failure.”
Dr. Bloom is an associate professor of medicine at Stony Brook University Medical Center, a fellow of the American College of Cardiology, and a fellow of the Heart Failure Society of America.
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There is not a one-size-fits-all approach
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to heart failure management, and you would really need
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to understand your particular situation
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along with your doctor and your heart failure team
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in order to really best tailor that therapy to your individual situation.
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Medications are the cornerstone of heart failure therapy,
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but there are so many things that go into properly
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managing a patient with heart failure.
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Heart failure patients are very sensitive to salt
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and water regulation, so we teach patients
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and their families not to eat a lot of extra salt,
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and also to monitor how much fluid they're taking in
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on a regular basis so that we don't run into problems
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with swelling and shortness of breath.
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Cardiac rehabilitation, it's like a gym for cardiac patients
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that empowers patients to get back into physical activity.
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Despite our best efforts with medical therapy,
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we have patients that don't respond to the therapy well
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or they get sicker, despite the therapy.
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For those patients, we start to think about things
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like mechanical circulatory support.
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There is something called a left ventricular assist device,
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also known as an LVAD, a heart pump that helps
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patients pump blood to the rest of the body.
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In the most extreme cases, we list patients for heart transplant.
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With your medical team, the doctor is the tip of the iceberg.
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The core of a heart failure team consists of nurses,
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who do a lot of our education.
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Other types of doctors like electrophysiologists,
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who help us with heart rhythm disturbances, surgeons,
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and of course, the most critical piece of the heart failure
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team is the patient and the family members themselves,
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who really bring to the table our ability to know
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how well we're doing with the therapies.
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A diagnosis of heart failure can be overwhelming
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to anybody in the best of circumstances.
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It is so important for patients to feel comfortable
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and empowered to bring any and all of their concerns
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to their doctor and their whole heart failure team
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so that we can help you live your best life with heart failure.
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Patient education: heart failure (beyond the basics). Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2019. (Accessed on January 27, 2020 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/heart-failure-beyond-the-basics.)
Treatment options for heart failure. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association. (Accessed on January 27, 2020 at https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/treatment-options-for-heart-failure.)