“Advances in heart failure treatments mean that patients can live fuller, more productive lives," said Rita Jermyn, MD, Director of Catholic Health’s St. Francis Heart Center’s Center for Advanced Cardiac Therapeutics. "From medications to lifestyle changes to surgery, if needed—we make the diagnosis more manageable. Our dedicated heart failure team at St. Francis Heart Center works closely with each patient to find the right treatment options for the patient’s lifetime.”
What is heart failure?
Think of heart failure as the heart's way of not keeping up with the body's demands.
Heart failure affects more than six million Americans each year. Often called congestive heart failure, the condition can start suddenly, such as following a heart attack. Or, it can develop slowly over time due to conditions like high blood pressure, viruses, or even a genetic cause.
There is no cure for heart failure. But, it can be treated using medication, exercise, lifestyle changes, and sometimes surgical procedures like left ventricular assist devices or cardiac transplants. Your cardiologist will work closely with you to create the right treatment plan based on your condition, age and other factors.
At Catholic Health's St. Francis Heart Center, Long Island’s most awarded heart program, we offer the highest level of care for heart failure led by a team of nationally recognized heart failure experts.
Who is at higher risk for heart failure?
Heart failure is typically caused by another medical condition that damages your heart and puts you at a higher risk of developing heart failure. These conditions include:
- Coronary artery disease (CAD)
- Heart inflammation
- Heart valve diseases
- High blood pressure
What causes heart failure?
Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle can’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the body. A normal heart pumps blood to your lungs and your body’s tissues. Highly organized contractions (or squeezes) of the heart’s chambers keep the blood in constant circulation. The four heart chambers include the right atrium, left atrium, right ventricle, and left ventricle.
Without oxygen, blood enters the right atrium and moves to the lungs through the right ventricle. Oxygen-rich blood returns from the lungs through the heart’s left atrium. The left ventricle then pumps it into the body.
If the four chambers don’t contract correctly, your heart may not meet the body’s demand for oxygen-rich blood. Your heart may be able to compensate temporarily for your body’s needs, but eventually, people with heart failure will experience symptoms due to this mismatch between supply and demand.
What are the symptoms of heart failure?
Heart failure may not cause symptoms immediately. Some symptoms can be ongoing, while others may start suddenly.
The most common symptoms of heart failure include:
- Shortness of breath during activity or when lying down
- Swelling in the lower extremities
- Weakness and fatigue
Other signs and symptoms can include:
- Abdominal swelling
- Inability to exercise
- Kidney damage
- Lack of concentration or attention
- Liver damage
- Nausea or poor appetite
- Persistent cough that produces white or pink mucous
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Rapid weight gain from fluid buildup
Do not wait to contact your doctor if you are exhibiting symptoms. Call 9-1-1 immediately if you experience chest pain or sudden and severe shortness of breath.
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What are the different types of heart failure?
Cardiologists classify heart failure by the side of the heart that causes it.
Left-sided heart failure, or systolic heart failure, is the most common type. The left ventricle can’t pump enough blood into the body. Blood collects in the vessels that lead away from the lungs. Breathing difficulties result.
Right-sided heart failure allows blood to go back into the vessels carrying blood to the heart. As a result, fluid builds up in your body’s tissues and causes swelling.
Problems on both sides of the heart cause biventricular heart failure. This type of heart failure causes both types of symptoms.
Can heart failure be treated?
There is no cure for heart failure, but it can be treated. Treatment options will depend on your heart failure stage and your condition's severity.
Your cardiologist can customize a treatment plan to reduce symptoms and help you live a more productive life. Comprehensive treatment options may include medications, defibrillators/pacemakers, cardiac contractility modulation, lifestyle changes, and heart-assisting technology like a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) for those with advanced heart failure.
How do medications help heart failure?
Your doctor may prescribe medications to control heart failure and to:
- Improve blood flow
- Lower blood pressure and cholesterol
- Relax blood vessels
- Slow your heart rate
- Stop fluid from collecting in your body
- Strengthen your heart’s contractions
What are the surgical treatment options for heart failure?
Your cardiologist may recommend surgery to treat the damaged or diseased part of your heart if your condition worsens or becomes life-threatening. Procedures may include:
- Angioplasty to open blocked arteries
- Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) to restore your heart’s rhythm
- Coronary bypass grafting (CABG) to improve blood flow to the heart
- Heart transplant
- Heart valve repair or replacement
- Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs)
- Ventricular assist devices (VADs) including LVAD
- Cardiac contractility modulation (heart failure device)
What is LVAD therapy?
For some heart failure patients, ventricular assist device (VAD) therapy may be recommended when medication and lifestyle changes are insufficient. At St. Francis Heart Center, we are leaders in left ventricular assist device (LVAD) therapy. LVAD is a mechanical heart pump that helps a weakened heart pump blood to the rest of your body.
Is heart failure manageable?
Making heart-healthy lifestyle changes can help you manage heart failure. You should:
- Avoid or limit alcohol consumption
- Control conditions like high blood pressure, anemia and heart rhythm irregularities
- Decrease salt intake
- Exercise regularly
- Get good-quality sleep
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Manage stress
- Quit smoking
Even if you are only at risk of having heart failure, practicing these lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of acquiring symptomatic disease.
Find care at St. Francis Heart Center
At St. Francis Heart Center locations across Long Island, we offer the highest level of cardiac care to help diagnose and treat patients with heart failure. Our heart failure specialists are nationally recognized experts who specialize in treating all levels of heart failure as well as offering advanced treatment options like ventricular assist devices.
For general heart failure services and advanced heart failure procedures (including LVAD):
For general heart failure services:
- St. Francis Heart Center at Good Samaritan University Hospital (West Islip, NY)
- St. Francis Heart Center at St. Catherine of Siena Hospital (Smithtown, NY)
- St. Francis Heart Center at St. Joseph Hospital (Bethpage, NY)
Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.