Treatment and Research
There is no cure for heart failure, but it can be controlled by treating the underlying conditions that cause it. The goals for treatment are to improve symptoms, stop the disease from worsening, and prolong life.
Treatments for Heart Failure
Treatments for heart failure include:
- lifestyle changes
- specialized care for those who are in the advanced stages
Treatment for heart failure will reduce the chances that you will have to go to the hospital and make it easier for you to do the things you like to do. It is very important that you follow your treatment plan by keeping doctor appointments, taking medications, and making lifestyle changes.
Eat Well For Your Heart
Following a heart healthy diet is a very important part of managing heart failure. In fact, not having a proper diet can make heart failure worse. Talk with our doctor and health care team to create an eating plan that works for you.
A heart healthy diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It also includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, and fat-free or low-fat milk or milk products. A healthy diet is low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium (salt), and added sugar.
Your doctor will probably recommend that you follow a diet low in salt because salt can cause extra fluid to build up in your body, making heart failure worse. You should limit the fluids you drink and weigh yourself every day. Let your doctor know right away if you have sudden weight gain. This could mean extra fluid is building up.
Follow a Healthy Lifestyle
Your doctor may also tell you to take these steps to control heart failure.
- Lose weight if you're overweight or obese. Work with your health care team to lose weight safely.
- Do physical activity as you doctor directs to become more fit and stay as active as possible.
- Quit smoking and avoid using illegal drugs. Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke. Smoking and drugs can worsen heart failure and harm your health.
- Get enough rest.
Take Prescribed Medications
Your doctor will prescribe medications to improve your heart function and symptoms. These may include:
- Diuretics, which are water or fluid pills. These medications remove fluid by increasing the amount of urine produced.
- ACE inhibitors, which work to improve heart failure in many ways, including lowering blood pressure and inhibiting hormones that worsen heart failure.
- Beta blockers, which slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and increase certain receptors that help strengthen the heart.
- Digoxin, a medication that also affects the hormones that worsen heart failure.
People with heart failure should try to avoid respiratory infections like pneumonia and the flu. Ask your doctor about getting vaccinated against pneumonia and influenza. Your doctor may also order extra oxygen if you have trouble breathing. The oxygen can be used in your home or in the hospital.
People with severe heart failure may also receive a mechanical heart pump that is placed inside the body to help pump blood. Some heart pumps can stay in your body for a long time, while others are temporary.
You may also be considered for a heart transplant. During transplantation, a healthy heart from someone who has recently died is put in to replace your failing heart. A transplant is an option to patients with severe, end-stage heart failure and when all other treatments fail to control symptoms.
Many advances in treatment for heart failure have been made over the past few decades, but heart failure is still very common. Scientists are trying to determine the best ways to prevent and treat heart failure.
For example, a recent study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of implantable defibrillators -- ICDs -- revealed that the device can prolong the lives of some heart failure patients by preventing sudden death.
Researchers are also looking at genetics in relation to heart failure treatments. One study is investigating whether patients who have certain genetic markers may respond better to beta blockers than those who do not.
A study supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has shown that drugs called statins, which can reduce cholesterol levels, also improve survival in heart failure patients. Many other new treatments for heart failure are currently being tested.