Why a patient’s heart failure type matters for treatment
A diagnosis of heart failure doesn’t mean your heart has stopped or is about to stop working. It’s a condition in which the heart cannot adequately pump blood to the body. Heart failure is a structural abnormality of the heart, and it causes patients to have some or all of these symptoms:
- Congestion or fluid in the lungs
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in the legs
- Fluid in the belly
In the U.S., heart failure is the No. 1 reason for admission to the hospital and for readmission within 30 days. The most common forms of heart failure are a weak heart or a stiff heart. When patients understand their particular type of heart failure and what caused it, they're able to better participate in their care.
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What is a weak heart?
In a weak heart, the heart muscle itself loses strength. A common cause of a weak heart is blockage in the arteries due to a buildup of plaque. We’re seeing that patients who survived heart attacks in their 50s or 60s may develop heart failure years later. Patients who are aware of this potential for heart failure can help to minimize further heart damage and partner with their physicians in treating the symptoms. People with weak hearts often notice shortness of breath, congestion, fatigue and swelling.
What is a stiff heart?
Just as other muscles in the body stiffen as we age, the heart muscle can become stiff as well. This stiffness keeps the heart from relaxing after each beat, which can cause fluid to back up in the lungs, legs and abdomen. The most common symptom people notice first is shortness of breath with simple exertion, such as walking up stairs.
When a patient notices this shortness of breath, they usually are referred to a cardiologist, who will perform an exam and tests, including an echocardiogram. This is an ultrasound picture of the heart that allows us to see the heart’s structure and function.
Personalized treatment for heart failure
Successful treatment for heart failure symptoms is a unique process for each patient. A weak heart sometimes can be strengthened with medication. For all patients with heart failure the treatment regimen will include:
- Controlling blood pressure
- Decreasing sodium intake
- Introducing diuretics, or water pills, which help rid the body of excess fluid
As part of our heart failure treatment, our team works with patients to care for the underlying conditions that contribute to their heart failure, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and coronary heart disease. In addition, our dedicated preventive cardiology team works to stop heart disease before it ever starts when possible.
Our goal is to prevent heart failure when we can by reducing risk factors, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. For patients diagnosed with heart failure, we can help improve symptoms with a combination of lifestyle, dietary changes and medication. Patients who understand their type of heart failure can participate with their doctor in treating it, and significantly improve their quality of life.
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