The term “heart failure” can be misleading. What is heart failure, what is the cause, and how is it treated? Dr. Thomas To, director of Renown’s Advanced Heart Failure Program, explains.
Insert the word “failure” after pretty much any medical condition, and the outcome seems ominous. But with heart failure — which essentially means your heart isn’t pumping blood as effectively as it could — the outlook can be good with the right treatment plan.
Here, Thomas To, M.D., director of Renown’s Advanced Heart Failure Program, explains the latest in diagnosing and treatment of this often misunderstood condition.
What is heart failure, and what are the symptoms?
It is a condition that develops over time. When the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands, blood pressure in the heart is elevated, leading to heart failure.
Typical symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, coughing and fluid in the lungs. And it’s important to remember that heart failure is a condition where symptoms may not appear until a late stage of the disease. That means someone may have a weak heart for a long time and not have symptoms.
Are certain people at higher risk than others?
There are many underlying causes of heart failure. In the U.S., about 50 percent of cases are caused by coronary artery disease.
Other causes include high blood pressure, persistent cardiac arrhythmias (such as atrial fibrillation), heart valve disease, congenital heart disease, diabetes, and infections and diseases of the heart muscle itself.
Additionally, there are outside factors like alcohol and drug abuse that can also increase your risk.
What does typical treatment look like?
The traditional standard of care involves manual monitoring. For patients and their providers, this involves routine blood pressure checks, weight gain assessments and closely watching for the onset of symptoms.
Here at Renown, we offer the region’s only CardioMEMS at-home monitoring. With this system, care providers can closely watch for changes in pulmonary artery pressures. Research suggests that this symptom appears before other symptoms as a sign of worsening heart failure.
How does the CardioMEMS system work?
Using a catheter, your medical professional implants a dime-sized pressure sensor in the pulmonary artery. Once placed, patients can then take readings of their pulmonary artery pressures from the comfort of their own home. Using a bedside unit and pillow with an antenna, the patient simply has to press a button. The readings are automatically and securely sent to their care provider for review.
Based on CardioMEMS readings, care providers may recommend medication or lifestyle changes to help improve the patient’s artery pressures. Research shows that the personalized and proactive management of this heart condition may help reduce hospital admissions for patients by 37 percent.
Studies have also shown the success of heart failure programs with manual monitoring. One reason: They encourage ongoing observation by primary care physicians and specialists. These programs also offer education and additional services that assist patients and their families with lifestyle adjustments.