Heart Failure

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Heart failure (also known as congestive heart failure) is a medical condition in which the heart cannot fill with enough blood or pump enough oxygenated blood to meet the needs of other organs in the body. Heart failure does not mean the heart stops beating, but rather that it cannot perform as efficiently as a healthy heart. Symptoms of heart failure may include shortness of breath, fatigue and weakness, swelling in the legs and ankles, and a cough that may be worse at night or when lying down.

Heart failure affects more than five million people in the U.S. Common causes of heart failure include coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart valve disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, and congenital heart defects.

Treatment for heart failure

Lifestyle changes, including increasing exercise, limiting fluids and salt intake, losing weight, quitting smoking, and avoiding alcohol.There is currently no known cure for heart failure, but certain treatments can help patients live longer and have more active lives. Depending on a patient's age, overall health and medical history, congestive heart failure treatment may include:

  • Medications to reduce the amount of fluid in the body, to make the heart beat stronger and more regularly, to dilate blood vessels and reduce the heart's workload, or to decrease pressure inside blood vessels.
  • A pacemaker to improve the timing and efficiency of the heart.
  • A cardioverter-defibrillator, an implanted device for arrhythmia treatment that senses when the heart is beating too quickly and delivers an electric shock to return it to normal rhythm.
  • A ventricular assist device implanted in the heart to take over the pumping function for one or both of the heart's ventricles.
  • Reconstructive surgical therapy, including bypass, valve repair and ventricular reconstruction.
  • Heart transplant – when all other treatments for heart failure have proven ineffective, physicians may recommend heart transplantation.

Treatment for heart failure at Brigham and Women's Hospital

As one of the country's leading cardiovascular centers, Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Boston offers world-class care and the most advanced treatment for heart failure and other conditions and complex diseases of the heart, blood vessels and circulatory system. Our group of physicians, nurse practitioners, research nurses, licensed social workers, nutritionists, and psychiatrists are one of the most skilled and experienced heart failure treatment teams in the country.

Clinicians in the Advanced Heart Disease Program at BWH are pioneering a number of innovative treatments for heart failure, including implantable monitors that let patients transmit cardiac information from home, and new left ventricular assist devices for continuous support of circulation that are smaller, quieter and more comfortable for patients. BWH is also a recognized leader in treatment for women and heart disease.

Learn more about Heart Failure and other Cardiovascular Conditions at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Many advances in heart failure treatment have been developed over the past several decades, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) has long played a key role in this evolution of heart failure treatment. In this video, Mandeep R. Mehra, MD, Executive Director of the BWH Center for Advanced Heart Disease, explains options for effectively repairing, replacing, or recovering heart function, including ventricular assist devices, in patients with heart failure. Dr. Mehra also discusses what future advances we can expect for patients with heart failure.

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