What Is Heart Failure? Who Treats This Condition?

Jan 29, 2024

Heart failure is a chronic disease that affects more than 6.7 million Americans. Heart Failure does not mean that your heart has stopped working. It describes a disease that makes it harder for the heart to pump enough blood and nutrients to meet your body’s needs.

There are two main types of heart failure:

  • Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF), where the heart muscle is too weak to pump the blood to the rest of the body with enough force.
  • Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), where the heart pumps strong, but is stiff and has trouble relaxing between heart beats to fill with enough blood.

Ejection fraction is a term to describe the percentage of blood pumped from the heart with each heartbeat. Because the heart can never be empty, it will not pump 100% of the blood from the chamber with each heartbeat. That is why a normal ejection fraction is 50% or greater.

The symptoms for a weak heart and stiff heart are similar and may include shortness of breath, swelling, weakness and chest pressure. These symptoms may occur quickly or may progress over such a lengthy period that a patient does not really notice until they are severe.

While heart failure is a serious and lifelong condition, it can be managed to allow people to live normal, fulfilling lives.

While each person is different, there are some recommendations that apply to most individuals who have heart failure:

  • Eat low-salt, low-fat foods.
  • Monitor your fluid intake. You may have to limit how much fluid you drink each day.
  • Exercise regularly. Even light exercise is better than sitting on the sofa all day!
  • Do not smoke or use illegal drugs.
  • Lose weight if necessary.
  • Take medications as prescribed.
  • Keep other medical conditions in check.
  • Monitor your symptoms and know when you should report problems to your health care provider.

People with heart failure benefit from a team of healthcare providers. It is important to have a primary care provider who oversees your overall health and will refer you to specialists. You should also have a cardiologist who examines your heart and determines if any additional testing or treatments should be performed to improve your heart function.

Those who continue to have symptoms despite following all the above recommendations or who have been hospitalized more than twice in the past year for heart failure should be referred to a heart failure specialist to be evaluated for any additional treatment options. The heart failure specialist does not take the place of your cardiologist, but works with him or her to help you have the best quality of life.