Life with Heart Failure — You Can Thrive


Heart failure is not a one-size-fits-all condition, nor does it have to be a debilitating diagnosis in some cases. Christopher Rowan, M.D., discusses Renown’s Advanced Heart Failure Program, which provides individualized care and aims to help patients lead healthy, full lives. 

By Christopher Rowan, M.D., Renown Institute for Heart & Vascular Health

Heart failure is not an obscure condition reserved for the elderly. As of November 2015, 5.1 million people in the U.S. suffer from heart failure, half of which die within five years of diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of the 1 million patients admitted to the hospital for heart failure every year, more than 50 percent are readmitted within six  months. We’re working to reduce that number with our Advanced Heart Failure Program, which offers patients the tools and information they need to manage their condition at home and avoid return hospital visits.

Developing heart failure is more likely as we age, but anyone – no matter their age – is susceptible to the condition. More often than not, heart failure follows another preexisting condition, such as a previous heart attack, coronary blood disease or high blood pressure.

Heart failure doesn’t mean the heart has stopped or is going to. It means the heart is not functioning properly and can’t keep the body supplied with enough oxygen-rich blood. Symptoms of heart failure vary, but generally individuals experience worsening shortness of breath with exertion such as walking, swelling in the legs that does not get better by morning, and the inability to breathe when lying down. Other symptoms which can be early indicators of heart failure include chest pain; an isolated, nonproductive cough that worsens when lying down; weakness and fatigue; unexplained weight gain; or feeling full or the loss of appetite.

Heart failure is not a one-size-fits-all condition. There is no formula for diagnosis — different patients present different symptoms, and treating heart failure requires a plan tailored to each patient’s specific needs. Patient education is a key part of treatment. Patients benefit from learning to care for their individual condition and open lines of communication with their heart failure team to help them stay on track.

Heart failure programs empower patients further by teaching them how to navigate the medical system to achieve the best possible outcome. This specialty care also offers patients counseling, a personal point of contact and the newest available treatments including implantable devices that alert care providers to a change in status before a patient feels symptoms. In some cases, these programs even work with community paramedics to expand care. For instance, patients who have been referred by a physician can schedule home visits to conduct blood work, or check weight and blood pressure.

Nurse navigators are another key to patient success. They assist with the transition from hospital to home, supporting a patient’s unique needs and filling in any information gaps when a doctor is not available. For example, I may prescribe medications to treat heart failure, but if patients get home and find they don’t understand the medications, or how and when to take them, they can call one of our nurses or a nurse navigator and receive quick assistance.

A heart failure diagnosis does not have to debilitate patients. Most can manage it as they would other conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure and still lead full, active lives. Often those patients who take charge of their condition will also take the initiative to maintain their overall health. And with strict adherence to health guidelines and quality medical therapy, some patients even overcome heart failure altogether. As healthcare providers, that is our goal.

To learn more, visit Renown Institute for Heart &Vascular Health.

This story was also published in the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Health Source on June 26, 2016.


  1. Renown's cardiac nurse navigators are such a wonderful resource for cardiac patients. I dealt with Emily Bates and Wende Schwake before and after my Aortic Valve Replacement surgery. My heart caused serious problems after the surgery, and Emily and Wende were just so great keeping in touch with me and giving me plenty of moral support. Bless them both!