​​​​​​​​​Understanding Heart Failure

Heart failure can leave you feeling tired and breathless. When left untreated, heart failure could significantly impact your quality of life or lead to other life-threatening complications such as kidney damage and sudden cardiac arrest. If daily activities like walking up steps or carrying groceries are harder for you now than a few months ago, it’s time to talk with your doctor.

The Christ Hospital Health Network provides the comprehensive, compassionate care you need. Our dedicated, multidisciplinary team of heart failure experts is the most experienced in the region. The program has received Advanced Heart Failure Certification from The Joint Commission. And we consistently receive recognition from the American Heart Association for our strong commitment to patient care.

We offer a wide range of services—from medication management to surgical procedures—to reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Whether you’re newly diagnosed or have long-term experience living with heart failure, we look forward to partnering with you to improve your well-being.

Learn more about our team of heart failure experts​ or call 513-206-1180 to schedule an appointment.

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a chronic condition that develops when your heart is no longer strong enough to pump blood to all parts of your body. It can happen when your heart muscles get weak or become stiff. Heart failure affects roughly 6.2 million Americans​, and it’s one of the fastest-growing heart problems nationwide.

This condition can affect the left side, right side or both sides of your heart. Doctors typically classify this condition based on how well your heart pumps blood. You can have:

  • Systolic heart failure: Your heart muscles are weaker and can’t contract enough to send blood throughout your body. This type is also called heart failure with reduced ejection fraction.

  • Diastolic heart failure: Your heart muscles are strong but can’t relax enough to pump blood well. This type is also called heart failure with preserved ejection fraction.

 Cardiac Chalk Talk: Ejection Fraction

​​Heart failure symptoms

Heart failure can affect each person differently. Some patients experience symptoms suddenly. Other people may not notice the signs because they develop slowly over time.

The most common heart failure signs are:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, or stomach

  • Fatigue

  • Chronic coughing or wheezing

  • Confusion

  • High heart rate

  • Lightheadedness

  • Little-to-no appetite

  • Nausea

Heart failure risk factors

Several health factors can increase your risk for developing heart failure. These medical conditions can increase your risk:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity

  • Coronary artery disease

  • Abnormal heart rhythm

  • Abnormal heart valves

  • Congenital heart disease

  • Heart muscle disease (like dilated cardiomyopathy or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy)

  • Heart muscle inflammation (myocarditis)

  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)

  • Previous heart attack

  • Severe anemia

  • Severe lung disease

  • Sleep apnea​

Other lifestyle behaviors can also increase your heart failure risk:

  • Eating a diet high in cholesterol, fat or salt

  • Excessive alcohol intake

  • Not getting enough exercise

  • Smoking

How is heart failure diagnosed?

A routine physical is the first step to diagnosing heart failure. Your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs and check your heart rate. If they hear anything abnormal, they may recommend other tests, including an echocardiogram—an ultrasound to show the thickness of your heart muscle—or a cardiac MRI. An MRI reveals any tissue inflammation or scarring, which can lead to weakened heart muscles.

Your doctor may also order bloodwork to detect signs of heart failure. A blood test will show if you have an elevated level of natriuretic peptide. This hormone molecule plays a big role in regulating your cardiovascular system, and your body produces more when your heart isn’t working well.

How is heart failure treated?

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, we know everyone’s experience with heart failure is different. So, our expert providers work together to develop specialized treatment plans for each patient. Depending on your condition, our team can offer a variety of recommendations.

Medical treatments

For patients with systolic heart failure, we may recommend:

  • Beta-blockers to lower your heart rate and blood pressure

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin-2 receptor blockers (ARB), or angiotensin receptor / neprilysin inhibitors (ARNI) improve blood flow by relaxing and opening your blood vessels

  • Mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists (MRA) lower the salt level in your blood, which reduces your blood pressure and opens your blood vessels

  • Sodium-glucose transport protein 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors to reduce your blood sugar levels and the risk of more heart complications if you have type 2 diabetes

Patients with diastolic heart failure may benefit from diuretics, which flush excess fluid from the body.

Medications are also available to treat two conditions closely linked to heart failure. One reverses damage caused by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy​, an inherited condition where thickened heart muscles restrict blood flow. The other targets amyloidosis, the buildup of abnormal protein in your heart.

Surgical treatments

For some patients, medication isn’t enough to help control their heart failure symptoms. If this happens, you may have advanced heart failure and might need an implanted device or surgery to improve your condition.

Depending on your health status, your doctor may recommend:​

  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD): This device sends an electric shock to your heart to help it reset to a standard, steady rhythm.

  • Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT): This special pacemaker helps your heart relax and contract so it can pump enough blood for your body.

If your symptoms do not improve with those devices, you may need surgery:

  • Left ventricular assist device (LVAD): This mechanical pump-like device ensures your heart pumps out enough blood.

  • Coronary artery bypass: Blocked arteries are a common cause of heart failure. During this procedure, your surgeon uses a healthy blood vessel from your leg, wrist or chest to reroute blood flow around the blockage.

  • Valve replacement: When the valves that control how blood flows inside your heart don’t work correctly, your surgeon may repair or replace them.

  • Heart transplant: When other devices, medications or lifestyle changes fail, replacing your damaged heart with a healthy one can be an option.

We are also leading the way to better surgical treatments by testing new technologies, such as a total artificial heart pump. Initial outcomes show this device is more durable than existing mechanical pumps and leads to fewer complications.

 Cardiac Chalk Talk: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment of Heart Failure

​The Christ Hospital Health Network difference

We have the most robust heart failure program in the area, and our expert team is ready to help you reclaim your everyday, active life. Our heart failure specialists, electrophysiologists, cardiac surgeons, certified heart transplant surgeons, advanced practice providers and dedicated clinical pharmacists will work together to create a personalized treatment plan that meets your needs. We also offer support groups where you can learn more about your condition and share your experience and connect with others.

As the regional leader, we provide access to the latest medications and most advanced surgical options. Our surgeons have the most experience in the Greater Cincinnati area with LVAD procedures and heart transplants. We also offer targeted care in specialized clinics for hypertrophic cardiopathy and cardiac amyloidosis.​

Plus, when you come to us for care, you can access treatments based on pioneering research efforts. At any given time, we have up to 20 ongoing heart failure clinical trials that can offer you a more comprehensive clinical experience. These trials ensure we always provide the latest therapy options.

Learn more about The Christ Hospital Health Network heart failure team or call 513-206-1180 to schedule an appointment.

 The Christ Hospital Advanced Heart Failure Program