Heart failure treatment in Southeast Georgia

At the Memorial Health Heart and Vascular Institute, we provide specialized care for patients with heart failure. Our experienced team of cardiologists work with your current physicians to create a customized care plan that may include medication therapy, risk factor management and life-saving device implants.

To learn more about the heart failure diagnostic and treatment services we provide, call (800) 352-6762.

What is heart failure?

Unlike the term may suggest, heart failure does not mean your heart has stopped working. It is often a chronic, progressive condition that develops when the heart muscle weakens and is unable to pump a sufficient amount of blood throughout the body.

Heart failure is typically caused by persistent high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, a heart attack, heart valve disease or congenital abnormalities. Left untreated, the lack of adequate blood flow causes the organs to progressively fail. This can result in complications that have a negative effect on a person's quality of life.

Often, you will hear the terms "heart failure" and "congestive heart failure" (CHF) used interchangeably. Technically, congestive heart failure is when fluid builds up in the lungs. This is called pulmonary edema and if left untreated can cause serious respiratory distress.

Signs and symptoms of heart failure may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Frequent urination, especially at nighttime
  • Need to sleep upright
  • Shortness of breath, especially when lying down or that worsens over time
  • Swelling in the feet, ankles and legs
  • Weight gain from fluid buildup

Diagnosing heart failure

We know an important component of heart care is receiving an accurate and timely diagnosis. A heart failure diagnosis begins with a visit to one of our board-certified cardiologists who will perform a physical exam. The physical exams includes:

  • Listening to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope
  • Feeling the abdomen for tenderness and swelling of the liver
  • Checking your feet, ankles and legs for swelling

Following a physical exam, additional heart imaging and screening tests will be ordered to confirm a heart failure diagnosis and determine the extent of your condition. Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Coronary angiography—a catheterization procedure to identify narrowing or blockages in the arteries
  • Echocardiogram (echo)—ultrasound to examine the size, shape, function and motion of the heart
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)—measures electrical currents in the heart
  • Exercise stress test—measures heart activity during periods of increased stress, such as physical activity
  • Nuclear imaging—uses a radioactive tracer to highlight and examine areas lacking blood flow in the heart
  • Urine tests

Managing heart failure

You can count on our team of heart specialists at the Memorial Health Heart and Vascular Institute to be there for you if you are experiencing heart failure. We offer a range of treatment options, including:

  • Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT)—involves implanting a pacemaker to restore an incorrect heart rhythm
  • Diuretic infusions—medication given intravenously to reduce liquid in the body
  • Cardiothoracic surgery
  • Home inotropic infusion therapy—drug delivery from an intravenous line or infusion pump
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medication management
  • Pulmonary artery pressure monitoring—involves implanting a sensor in the pulmonary artery to measure pressure and heart rate

Causes of heart failure

There are a number of factors that can contribute to a heart failure diagnosis, including:

  • Amyloidosis (build-up of proteins, called amyloid, in the heart)
  • Cardiomyopathy (condition that makes it hard for the heart to pump blood effectively throughout the body)
  • Certain medications
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • High blood pressure
  • Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland)
  • Kidney or liver failure
  • Problems related to the heart valves, often due to one of the following:
    • Bacterial endocarditis (infection of the inner lining of the heart)
    • Calcium deposits from atherosclerosis (build up in the arteries that restricts blood flow)
    • Congenital abnormalities
    • Rheumatic heart disease (damage to the heart valves resulting from rheumatic fever)
  • Thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency

Risk factors for heart failure

The following are common risk factors associated with heart failure.

  • Age
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Chemotherapy treatment
  • Chronic lung disease, like emphysema
  • Ethnicity
  • Excess intake of salt or fatty foods
  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • High fever
  • Infection
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking

In addition to the above factors, African Americans and men are at an increased risk for heart failure.

Preventing heart failure

The best way to prevent heart failure is to reduce your personal risk of developing coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and/or diabetes. You can take the following steps to reduce your risk:

  • Begin a safe exercise program with the advice of your doctor
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Lose weight, if needed
  • Quit smoking