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Heart Failure


When you have heart failure, the heart can't pump oxygen-rich blood through your body as well as it should. Blood and fluid may back up into the lungs, and some parts of the body don't get enough oxygen-rich blood to work normally.

Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute of Greater Sacramento offers a special program to help patients recover from heart failure. Learn about our CHAMP® class.

Types of Heart Failure

There are two types of heart failure:

  • Systolic heart failure: The heart muscle becomes weak and enlarged. It can't pump enough blood forward when the ventricles contract. Ejection fraction, a measurement of how well your heart is working, is lower than normal.
  • Diastolic heart failure: The heart muscle becomes stiff. It doesn't relax normally between contractions, which keeps the ventricles from filling with blood. Ejection fraction, a measurement of how well your heart is working, is often in the normal range.

Both systolic and diastolic heart failure affect the ventricles' ability to pump blood. You may have one or both types.

Symptoms of Heart Failure

Once you have heart failure, flare-ups can happen. Gaining weight is often the first warning sign of trouble. But there are other signs of trouble, too. Here are some things to watch for:

  • Swelling
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Weakness, dizziness or fatigue
  • Chest pain or changes in your heartbeat
  • Forgetfulness
  • Loss of appetite

Call your doctor right away if you notice any of the signs listed above or you have any other unusual symptoms.

Diagnosing Heart Failure

To evaluate your condition, your doctor will examine you, ask questions and run tests. Your doctor will also look for any other health problems that may have led to heart failure.

Your visit will include:

  • Health History: Tell the doctor about any symptoms you've noticed and about all medications you take.
  • Physical Exam: This includes listening to your heartbeat and breathing. You'll also be checked for edema (swelling).

Your doctor may order one or more of the following tests:

  • X-rays show the size and shape of your heart. These pictures can also show fluid in your lungs.
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) shows the pattern of your heartbeat.
  • An echocardiogram uses ultrasound waves to show the structure and movement of your heart muscle. This shows how well the heart pumps. It also shows the thickness of the heart walls and if the heart is enlarged.
  • Lab tests evaluate small amounts of blood or urine for signs of problems.

Managing Heart Failure with Lifestyle Changes

After heart failure, patients need extra support to recover fully and make the necessary lifestyle changes. Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute of Greater Sacramento is a partner in that process. That's why we developed our CHAMP class to guide you through recovery. Learn more about CHAMP®.

Your doctor may also recommend:

  • Medications to help your heart work better and improve your quality of life
  • Changes in what you eat and drink to help prevent fluid from backing up in your body
  • Daily monitoring of your weight and heart failure symptoms to see how well your treatment plan is working
  • Exercise to help you stay healthy
  • Help with quitting smoking

Treatment Options for Heart Failure at Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute

The treatment plan your doctor develops for you will relieve some of your heart failure symptoms and help make you more comfortable. Your treatment plan may include:

Interventional Procedures for Heart Failure

Surgery to Treat Heart Failure

Medical Devices for Heart Failure

  • A pacemaker is a small electronic device that treats a slow heartbeat
  • An ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) is a device that treats fast heart rhythms when they become life-threatening
  • Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) is a treatment that stimulates the heart's lower chambers (ventricles) so their contractions are more efficient. This therapy is delivered by either a pacemaker or an ICD
  • Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) is a mechanical pump that's used to support heart