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Relaxing is an important part of life—even for the heart. When the heart has trouble relaxing between beats, the left chamber (left ventricle) can’t completely refill with blood. This results in higher pressure in the heart, fluid build-up in the lungs, thickening of the ventricles, and ultimately, diastolic heart failure.
Diastolic heart failure is responsible for about two-thirds of the heart failure cases. Some of the most common symptoms of diastolic heart failure include:
- Irregular or abnormal heartbeat
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Shortness of breath
Although diastolic heart failure isn’t curable, treatment can help relieve symptoms and improve the way the heart pumps. In fact, we’ve treated patients who went from being extremely fatigued and unable to exercise to regular physical activity in less than a year.
LISTEN: Dr. Valeriani Bead discusses diastolic heart failure in the Medical Intel podcast.
How is Diastolic Heart Failure Diagnosed?
To make a diagnosis, a cardiologist has a conversation with a patient about their symptoms and follows it up with a physical exam. An echocardiogram, or an imaging test that shows a visual image of the heart, meanwhile, might be needed to rule out other conditions, as well as a stress test to show how blood is flowing through the heart during exercise.
Blood tests or a cardiac catheterization procedure—when a thin tube is inserted into the heart to see how it’s functioning— also is needed at times to determine whether a patient’s arteries have any blockages or to examine cholesterol levels.
How is Diastolic Heart Failure Treated?
Treatment for diastolic heart failure always begins with lifestyle modifications, such as quitting smoking, increasing physical activity, and having a healthy diet. We then offer treatment to control factors that can contribute to stiffening of the heart, which includes high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
The medications we use include:
- Beta blockers, which slow the heart rate to allow it to function better
- Calcium channel blockers, which help reduce the stiffness of the heart
- Diuretics, which help reduce fluid accumulation. If those medications aren’t sufficient, sometimes we’ll recommend surgery to open blocked or narrowed blood vessels.
Lifestyle modifications are first-line treatment for diastolic #heartfailure, says Dr. Valeriani Bead. Discover what other treatments can help patients relieve symptoms. https://bit.ly/2IctR7M via @MedStarWHC #HeartMonth
A treatment success story
One middle-aged patient we treated was experiencing shortness of breath, which prevented her from doing her Zumba exercises. When she experienced swelling in her legs and a “flooding” sensation in her heart, she decided to seek medical attention.
After she told us about her symptoms, she underwent an electrocardiogram (EKG), which showed an abnormal heart rhythm. Her lungs were clear and her heart sounded good (with the exception of a few skipped beats), but her blood pressure was too high. As a result, we prescribed medications to control her blood pressure and reduce the fluid in her legs, and we discussed following a healthier diet.
When she saw us a couple of weeks later, we did an echocardiogram of her heart. It showed that her heart was strong; however, by using certain diagnostic techniques, we could tell that it was becoming a little stiff and thick from her long-standing high blood pressure. As the patient continued taking her medications and eating a healthier diet, her heart began to heal. She was back to doing Zumba in just eight weeks, and after six months, she was teaching Zumba classes!
Who is Most at Risk for Diastolic Heart Failure?
Individuals who are at a higher risk for diastolic heart failure include people 65 and older, women, and people with:
- Clogged arteries: When arteries are clogged, blood flow to the heart can be impacted.
- Diabetes: The disease is thought to lead to stiffening of the heart because of excess glucose in the blood that “starches” the heart muscle.
- Heart valve problems: If the aortic valve narrows, the left ventricle may thicken or harden.
- High blood pressure: Chronic hypertension increases pressure in the left ventricle.
MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute offers cardiology patients advanced care in a compassionate environment. We provide treatments that are supported by clinical trials and the latest information in the medical field. Additionally, patients with diastolic heart failure and other specific conditions have the benefit of seeing a wide range of specialists who treat these conditions every day.
Symptoms of diastolic heart failure can be easy to overlook at times. However, seeking medical attention is critical in order to receive the proper treatment.