Hearing the word "failure" associated with your heart can be scary. However, heart failure does not mean that your heart has stopped working. Instead, this chronic and progressive condition occurs when the heart isn't pumping as efficiently as it should, and as a result your body isn't receiving the oxygen it needs. Symptoms range from mild to severe and worsen over time; they include shortness of breath, swelling of the legs and ankles, frequent coughing and swelling or pain in the belly.
Heart Failure Treatment
Once diagnosed, your doctor will run tests depending on your condition to determine the best treatment. As with any progressive disease, your treatment may vary over time, and medication and lifestyle changes can help you control your heart failure. For advanced heart failure, surgical intervention may be required, which includes implantable devices. Those with severe, progressive heart failure that does not respond to other treatment methods may be candidates for heart transplant.
Choosing the Best Heart Failure Program
Heart failure is a complex condition and each case is unique, requiring treatment tailored to the individual patient. Like any medical decision, it's important to review your options carefully when choosing a heart failure program.
Here are three things to keep in mind while evaluating programs:
Experience – Look for an organization with a dedicated heart failure program, and read about their outcomes. It can also be helpful to review a list of organizations that comply with the Joint Commission standards for heart failure care and have an advanced certification in heart failure. These programs are recognized for having achieved high standards of treatment for heart failure patients and comply with both Joint Commission and American Heart Associated guidelines. Penn's heart failure program is one of the most active in the country and has achieved this level of care.
You should also look for specialists certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in the Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiology specialty. Less than 250 doctors are certified in this specialty worldwide, and we are proud to that our Penn heart failure specialists are among this select group.
Research – The research of today is the treatment of tomorrow. At academic medical centers like Penn, clinical care, education and research are combined to provide the best possible patient care. Research and clinical trials are the cornerstone of our heart failure program.
Communication – This is a very important part of any patient/doctor relationship. When evaluating your options for heart failure treatment, make sure that your questions will be answered in a way that you understand. Whether you are asking for yourself or a loved one, you need to be a part of your health care decisions, on the front lines of those decisions, not taking a back seat.
Also look for a program that encourages collaboration and communication between different specialties and departments. The heart failure team at Penn includes cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons, as well as specialists in cardiac imaging, pulmonary medicine, diabetes and rehabilitation medicine. This multispecialty team has a broad understanding of heart failure treatment ranging from early-prevention strategies to late-stage options, and offers a complete continuum of care as the disease evolves.
Whether you have been seen already and want to get a second opinion, or it is your first time searching for this specialty, Penn Medicine can help. We hope these tips provide you with the confidence that you need to choose the best heart failure program for you.