What is Congestive Heart Failure and How Can It Be Treated? | MedStar Health

What is Congestive Heart Failure and How Can It Be Treated?

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An anatomical model of a heart sits on a desk and a doctor is out of focus in the background.

The words congestive heart failure may sound scary, but with expert care and treatment, patients can either make lifestyle changes, begin medication regimens, or undergo procedures that can address the symptoms of congestive heart failure, and go on to live healthier lives.

Congestive heart failure results from the heart muscle not performing normally. With congestive heart failure, the heart fails to pump efficiently and causes shortness of breath and swelling. In addition, because the heart is overworking to compensate, its walls may become thick and stiff as a result. This is the leading cause of hospitalization for people over the age of 65. 

There are two types of congestive heart failure. The first is systolic heart failure, meaning weak heart muscle. It can be caused by a previous heart attack or viral infection. It can be treated by developing a plan with a cardiologist that addresses lifestyle changes and medications to improve the heart’s performance.

The second is diastolic heart failure, meaning the heart muscle is strong, but stiff. It may be caused by longstanding high blood pressure or valve problems. Like systolic heart failure, it can be treated through lifestyle changes and medication.

To make an appointment with Dr. Thomaides, Dr. Lee or Dr. Hong, ask your primary care doctor for a referral, or call their office at 301-877-5677.

Advanced Heart Failure Symptoms

Advanced heart failure symptoms are similar to those experienced by patients with less serious disease. The difference is that symptoms can be felt with minimal exertion or even at rest.  The severity of symptoms can still vary from day-to-day, or even within the same day.

These include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the legs and feet
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Irregular heartbeat (cardiac arrhythmia)
  • Weight loss
  • Chest pain

Advanced Heart Failure Treatment

Our doctors usually treat less-severe heart failure with lifestyle changes and more common medications. But more advanced heart failure often requires a deeper approach. Possible options include:

  • Inotropes: Medications that increase your heart’s squeezing capacity (only select centers like ours can send patients home on these powerful medications)
  • Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) device: Ensures the right and left side of your heart contract at the same time (learn more about pacemakers)
  • Percutaneous valves: Repair or replacement of heart valves with a minimally invasive approach that avoids open-heart surgery
  • Left ventricular assist devices (LVAD): Devices that help the heart, either as permanent treatment or as a temporary measure before transplant
  • Heart transplant: Replacement of the heart with a donor organ