Dr. Maciej Malinski is on the medical staff at Sherman Hospital. He has been kind enough to answer some frequently asked questions related to maintaining a healthy heart. Look for additional heart information from Dr. Malinski in the coming weeks.
Q: My great-aunt was just diagnosed with Heart Failure. Is this something that can be cured with medicine or surgery?
A: Heart Failure (HF) is a term describing failure or decreased ability of the heart to perform its function as a pump. When the heart-pump fails there is not enough oxygen going to the tissues, which causes shortness of breath and fatigue. The blood is not circulated effectively, and as a result there is swelling, usually described as leg edema or fluid in the lungs causing shortness of breath.
In western society the most common cause of HF is coronary artery disease (CAD – narrowing of the vessels of the heart) and hypertension, which causes damage of the heart muscle. The other causes include disease of the heart valves, damage of the heart from alcohol or drugs, and disease of the heart muscle from unknown causes. I assume your great-aunt is probably person of age, so CAD, hypertension, or valvular disease causes her HF.
An initial approach would include therapy with medications to improve symptoms. Some tests would also be conducted to diagnose the cause of her HF. Reduction in salt intake, taking medications to improve secretion of fluid (diuretics known as “water pills” that increase amount of urine), and control of blood pressure will improve symptoms and survival.
Ultrasound of the heart in most cases will give a clue as to the cause of HF. Very often the patient will also have a stress test. If the cause of HF is coronary artery disease or valvular disease, the treatment could include a coronary angiogram (invasive test to take pictures of the heart), stenting, or open-heart surgery. If the cause is hypertension or the other disease mentioned above the treatment most likely will be medical therapy. In elderly patients, usually we try medical therapy first.
To answer your question, no, there is not a cure for heart failure. I always tell my patients that this is a chronic disease and there is no cure, but there are treatments that improve symptoms and survival. Patients who are compliant with therapy nowadays do fairly well, and we are able to treat patients for many years so they can live a comfortable life. To ensure compliance with therapy, and to help patients understand the disease, patients are enrolled in HF programs.
At Sherman Hospital we have a very successful Heart Failure Recovery Center. I enroll most of my patients with HF to this clinic, and results are excellent. Patients with better monitoring are less frequently admitted to the hospital because we are able to treat them before they develop disabling symptoms. I would encourage you to sign up your great-aunt to such a program in the area she lives. You can also visit AmericanHeart.org or the Sherman Library website to find more about living with HF.
Do you have a question for Dr. Malinski? To submit your question, either post it in the comments section below or email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Question for Dr. Malinski.” For more information on heart health, click here to visit Sherman’s Heart and Vascular Center.
This post is published by Sherman Health to provide general health information. It is not intended to provide personal medical advice, which should be obtained directly from your physician.