Heart Failure Treatment | MedStar Health

Expert care and advanced procedures to treat heart failure at any stage

Heart failure occurs when your heart can’t pump enough blood for your body. Although it is a lifelong condition, treatment for heart failure can manage the symptoms and may allow your heart to gain strength.

The team in our Advanced Heart Failure Program is renowned for its innovations to improve treatment options and quality of care. Our doctors implanted the first HeartWare left ventricular assist device (LVAD)  in the country and performed the first heart transplant  in the District of Columbia. We continue to improve on these procedures while also aggressively pursuing even more effective therapies.

The goals of heart failure treatment are to relieve symptoms and improve quality and length of life.

Lifestyle changes

In the earlier stages of the condition, your treatment plan may include make lifestyle changes such as:

  • Eating a heart-healthy, low-salt diet

  • Exercising

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

  • Quitting smoking


Medications can improve the heart’s function and your ability to live a more normal life. Medications you may be prescribed could include:

  • Diuretics to reduce fluid build-up
  • ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) to lower blood pressure
  • Beta blockers to slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure
  • Aldosterone blockers to help prevent your body from holding onto fluids
  • Hydralazine/isosorbide to relax your blood vessels
  • Inotropes to increase your heart’s squeezing capacity. Only select centers like ours can send patients home on these powerful medications

Treatments for advanced heart failure

More serious cases of heart failure may need advanced treatment. Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO): ECMO pumps your blood through a machine so your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to deliver oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. This therapy often is used after heart surgery or before getting a ventricular assist device to allow your heart time to rest and recover.
  • Implantable devices: Devices such as implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) or pacemakers may be used to regulate or start your heart using electrical pulses.

Learn More About Advanced Heart Failure Treatments

Types of heart failure surgery

We’ll discuss your surgical options and work with you to find the best surgical option for your condition:

  • Coronary artery bypass surgery: If your heart is failing due to blockages in the coronary arteries, we can use a healthy vessel from elsewhere in the body to restore normal blood flow by creating a detour around the blocked arteries.

  • Heart transplant: If your heart is severely diseased, your doctor may recommend that your old heart be replaced with a healthier one.

  • Heart valve surgery: Damaged or diseased heart valves can prevent your heart from getting enough blood. Your doctor may recommend surgery to repair or replace the affected valves.

  • Ventricular assist device (VAD): Mechanical pumps can be implanted in your abdomen to help your heart pump enough blood through your body. These pumps may be used as an alternative to a heart transplant.

After surgery, your doctor may recommend that you receive extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), an external pump to oxygenate your blood, which allows your heart time to rest.

Heart Failure and Transplantation Cardiology

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Our locations

Distance from Change locationEnter your location

MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital

5601 Loch Raven Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21239

MedStar Union Memorial Hospital

201 E. University Pkwy.
Baltimore, MD 21218

MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center

9000 Franklin Square Dr.
Baltimore, MD 21237

MedStar St Mary's Hospital

25500 Point Lookout Rd.
Leonardtown, MD 20650

MedStar Harbor Hospital

3001 S. Hanover St.
Baltimore, MD 21225

MedStar Washington Hospital Center

110 Irving St. NW
Washington, DC 20010

MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

3800 Reservoir Rd. NW
Washington, DC, 20007

MedStar Montgomery Medical Center

18101 Prince Philip Dr.
Olney, MD 20832

MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center

7503 Surratts Rd.
Clinton, MD 20735

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

  • What are the common medications used to treat heart failure?

    Heart failure patients may need multiple medications. Each medication is designed to treat different symptoms. It is very important that heart failure patients take their medications exactly are directed. Common heart failure medications include:

    • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors: Relax blood vessels to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow and put less strain on your heart.
    • Angiotensin II Receptor Blocker (or Inhibitors): Similar benefits as the ACE Inhibitors.
    • Angiotensin-Receptor Neprilysin Inhibitors (ARNIs): Two blood pressure drugs are used to treat heart failure.
    • If Channel Blocker (or inhibitor): Calcium channel blockers are used to limit how your body uses the essential mineral calcium.
    • Beta Blockers (Also known as Beta-Adrenergic Blocking Agents): Slow the heart rate
    • Aldosterone Antagonists: Used in the treatment of systolic heart failure.
    • Hydralazine and isosorbide dinitrate (specifically benefits African-Americans with heart failure): Isosorbide dinitrate belongs to the group of medicines called nitrates. It works by relaxing the blood vessels and increasing the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart while reducing its work load. Hydralazine works by relaxing the blood vessels and increasing the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart while reducing its work load.
    • Diuretics (Also known as water pills): Help people to urinate more frequently to prevent build up of fluid in the body.

    Your doctor may also prescribe other less commonly used drugs depending on your additional health problems. These drugs include:

    • Anticoagulants (blood thinners): These drugs may be prescribed if you are a heart failure patient with atrial fibrillation or have another problem with your heart. Anticoagulants are not used to treat heart failure without the presence of atrial fibrillation.
    • Cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins): Your doctor may prescribe this class of medication if you have high cholesterol or have had a heart attack. This class of drugs is not used to treat heart failure, but other conditions as indicated.
    • Digoxin: Some heart failure patients might be prescribed this drug if the doctor feels it’s warranted.

    Source: American Heart Association

  • Can heart failure be reversed?

    Heart failure is a chronic disease that typically gets worse over time. However, if your heart failure is caused by an underlying condition, such as blocked coronary arteries or a heart valve problem, treating this condition may reverse heart failure.

  • Can lifestyle modifications make a difference?

    Yes, lifestyle modifications can make a big difference. Following a heart healthy diet that is low in saturated fat, sodium, added sugars and cutting back on processed foods is essential. Staying active is very important with some type of physical activity every day. It is important to quit smoking, manage your stress, track your fluid intake, avoid or limit alcohol and caffeine, as well as managing your weight.

  • How often do patients need to see their physicians to be sure their heart failure is under control?

    Patients should see their healthcare provider every three to six months. If you are hospitalized because of heart failure or your symptoms worsen, your provider may need to see you more frequently.

  • What are the indications that the treatment needs to be modified?

    Frequent hospitalizations and worsening symptoms are indications that the treatment need to be modified.

  • What are the surgical treatment options for heart failure?

    People with end-stage heart failure may need a heart transplant or mechanical assistance for the heart to do its job. Heart transplant allows us to replace someone's failing heart with a healthier heart from a donor. Your doctor may recommend a heart transplant if other heart failure treatments have been unsuccessful.

    Another treatment option is to have our expert surgeons implant a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, that helps circulate the blood with a small pump (see ventricular assist devices).

    There are other surgical options to treat related conditions that cause heart failure, such as coronary artery stenting and coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG), open and transcatheter procedures to treat various heart valve conditions, and defibrillator implants and surgical ablation to treat heart rhythm conditions.

Additional information

Advanced heart failure patient support

Our unique patient support program offers the resources you need to optimize your medical care and improve your quality of life.

Learn More About Our Advanced Heart Failure Program

Ask MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net. If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.