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Heart Failure

When your heart muscle is weak and can’t pump blood the way it should, you have heart failure. It is also called congestive heart failure (CHF). Heart failure makes it hard for your body to get the oxygen-rich blood it needs. Heart failure is typically caused by conditions that strain your heart, including high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.

For most people, heart failure can’t be cured. Medications, diet, and exercise help you control the symptoms and progression of the disease.

Baystate Medical Center has a Heart Failure Management Program, which helps people with heart failure improve their quality of life. The program can successfully empower you to manage your condition and reach your optimal health.

Our Heart Failure Management Program offers:

  • Assessment by a Baystate Health Center cardiologist who specializes in heart failure
  • Treatment based on national guidelines and the latest research
  • Strategies to improve your health that focus on your needs and priorities
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Education for your caregivers and family
  • Telephone triage
  • Urgent care visits
  • Collaboration with the visiting nurse and hospice teams
  • Participation in current research trials

Risk Factors

You have a higher chance for developing heart failure if you:

  • Smoke
  • Are obese
  • Have sleep apnea
  • Have diabetes
  • Have had a heart attack
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Take certain medications
  • Have congenital heart disease
  • Have myocarditis or cardiomyopathy

Diagnosis

Signs of heart failure include:

  • Shortness of breath when you exert yourself or lie down
  • Weakness and feeling tired
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Swelling in your legs or abdomen
  • Weight gain
  • Nausea
  • Confused, fuzzy thinking

In addition to a physical exam, you might need these tests to diagnose heart failure:

  • Blood test
  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • Chest X-ray
  • Exercise Stress Test
  • Cardiac CT or MRI

Treatment

Heart failure is typically a lifelong condition. Lifestyle changes, medication, and surgery can help you control symptoms and even strengthen your heart.

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe a variety of medications such as beta blockers, diuretics, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers, or aldosterone antagonists.

Your doctor may also recommend advanced or surgical therapies, including:

  • Biventricular pacing/cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT), which is similar to a pacemaker. It’s implanted under the skin of your upper chest, and helps correct and restore your heart’s rhythm.
  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), which is a temporary life support machine that replaces the work of your heart and lungs. It uses a pump to circulate blood from the body to an artificial lung (oxygenator) that removes carbon dioxide and adds oxygen. The ECMO machine then returns oxygen-rich blood to the body. It is a “bridge therapy” that allows time for your heart or lungs to heal or time for your care team to determine the best treatment.
  • Heart transplant, for patients with advanced heart failure who have not responded to standard treatment.
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which is a battery-powered device that is surgically placed beneath your skin. Wires are inserted through the veins, positioned in your heart, and then connected to the ICD. This allows information to travel between your heart and the ICD, and helps the ICD monitor your heart rhythm. If your heart beats too slowly, an electrical impulse stimulates your heartbeat. A specific type of ICD, known as CRT-D, may also be necessary to help coordinate the pumping action of the heart muscles. This treatment is called cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT).
  • Left ventricular assist device (VAD), which is a mechanical pump that helps a weak heart move blood through the body. This may be an option for patients with end-stage heart failure. A VAD may be used as a “bridge-to-transplant,” meaning it is used temporarily until a heart transplant can be performed, or it may be considered as an alternative to heart transplant.
  • Ultrafiltration, which involves removing blood from your body and passing it through a special filter. The filter removes the excess fluid from your blood. The filtered blood is returned to your body