Congestive heart failure (or simply, “heart failure”) is a medical condition in which the heart fails to sufficiently pump oxygenated blood needed by the body's other organs. The heart continues to pump, but not as efficiently as a healthy heart. This condition, which affects nearly six million Americans, may lead to symptoms such as shortness of breath, swelling of the legs and ankles, fatigue and weakness, loss of appetite and a persistent cough. Common causes of heart failure include high blood pressure, adult congenital heart disease, coronary artery disease and valvular heart disease.
Cardiomyopathy, which describes any disorder that affects the heart muscle, also can be a contributing cause of heart failure. Three forms of cardiomyopathy are:
Cardiovascular specialists at the Center for Advanced Heart Failure/Cardiomyopathy Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Heart & Vascular Center offer comprehensive inpatient and outpatient clinical services to adults with cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure, including a broad range of innovative diagnostics, leading-edge medical therapies and replacement therapies for the failing heart, including heart transplantation and mechanical circulatory support. The Heart & Vascular Center has a specialized Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Clinic. Treatment plans for each heart failure patient are individualized with the goal of improving both length and quality of life.
Along with cardiomyopathy and other diseases of the heart muscle, congestive heart failure may result from a number of other causes, including:
Congestive heart failure limits the kidneys’ ability to eliminate excess sodium and waste products, causing the body to retain more fluid and resulting in swelling of the ankles, legs and abdomen. Fluid also may collect in the lungs, causing shortness of breath. Other symptoms of congestive heart failure include:
All of these symptoms are common to many medical conditions and may not indicate heart failure. If you experience any of these symptoms or have concerns, consult your doctor.
At Brigham and Women’s Hospital, our congestive heart failure specialists provide expert evaluation and diagnosis using advanced imaging technologies. Along with performing a careful physical examination, your cardiologist may order one or more of these tests or procedures:
Physicians and surgeons at BWH are leaders in the science of heart failure management and cardiac transplantation, and provide access to a range of clinical trials of experimental therapies that may benefit heart failure patients, including
For patients and their family members who have familial cardiac diseases such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the Heart and Vascular Genetics Program offers evaluation by a specialist and blood testing for genetic cardiac disorders.
If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Watkins Clinic for pre-operative information and tests.
The day of surgery, you care will be provided by surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with congestive heart failure. After surgery, you will go to the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced surgical and nursing staff.
During your surgery, family and friends can wait in the Shapiro Family Center. Staff members will provide surgery updates and caregivers who leave the hospital will be contacted by cell phone.
Learn more about your hospital stay and returning home.
The Center for Advanced Heart Failure/Cardiomyopathy was rated number one for heart failure in the University HealthSystem Consortium of academic medical centers. Our multidisciplinary team, the most experienced ventricular assist device and heart transplant group in New England, includes nationally-recognized specialists in:
Learn more about heart failure in our health library.
Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center where patients and families can access computers and knowledgeable staff.
Visit the Brigham and Women’s Hospital HealthHub Blog, which features information on a variety of topics, including heart disease.
Carolyn Ho, MD, Medical Director of the Cardiovascular Genetics Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), discusses the role of genetics in the development of heart diseases such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Read the Advancing Care for Inherited Heart Disease video transcript.
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