URMC Cardiology

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a condition in which your heart can no longer provide enough blood to keep up with your body’s needs.

Heart failure can be caused by several different problems, including coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, heart attack or congenital heart problems.

In many cases, heart failure can be treated effectively with medications. When medications do not help and symptoms become severe, a heart transplant may need to be considered.

A heart transplant can restore the health and energy you had prior to heart failure. There are many important risks to consider, though, and patients requiring a heart transplant may encounter long waits for a donor heart.

What are the symptoms?

There are many symptoms of heart failure, and they may be mild or severe.

One of the primary ways your cardiologist will assess your heart is by a cardiac ultrasound to measure your ejection fraction. This is the percentage of the blood in your heart’s left ventricle that is ejected with each heart beat. A normal ejection fraction is between 55 and 65%.  Many people with heart failure have an ejection fraction below 40%. 

Here are the main symptoms of heart failure:

  • Shortness of breath, particularly when exercising.
  • Inability to exercise or perform physical tasks.
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles or feet.
  • Sudden weight gain from retaining fluid.
  • Frequent urination late at night.

How is it treated?

Medication. Most cases of heart failure are treated with medication. There are many drugs available for the treatment of heart failure, and your cardiologist may prescribe one or more of them.

Implantable defibrillator. Heart failure patients have a higher risk of sudden cardiac death, so an implantable defibrillator may be needed. This device is implanted surgically. If your heart should ever stop suddenly, the defibrillator will shock your heart back to its regular rhythm.

Ventricular assist devices (VADs). A ventricular assist device can be used to help your heart pump better. VADs are sometimes known as “artificial heart pumps”. These mechanical devices are implanted in your heart and run on battery power. VADs have been shown to help extend and improve the lives of people with heart failure.

Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT). A relatively new treatment, Cardiac resynchronization therapy can help your heart to pump more efficiently. A CRT device uses electrical signals to help the heart beat in a more coordinated fashion.

Heart transplant. A heart transplant is used for patients who have severe heart failure. Patients who have heart transplants often experience dramatic improvements in their health. Since donor hearts are in short supply, patients needing a heart transplant often have to wait months or even years for a heart to become available.

What is URMC’s approach?

Through our advanced approaches at URMC, we are able to give heart failure patients greater hope than ever before.

  • We have the area’s only center that specializes in the treatment of heart failure: The Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation.
  • We are one of the nation’s leading centers for research on ventricular assist devices.
  • URMC is one of the world's leading research centers on implantable defibrillators and cardiac resynchronization therapy.
  • We are the only center in Western New York that performs heart transplants, with outcomes that compare well with the best heart transplant centers in the nation.
  • Read about one of our patients.

Awards & Recognition for our Heart Failure Program

URMC is the first in the region to receive Advanced Certification from the Joint Commission for Heart Failure and for Ventricular Assist Devices.

Who should I contact?

If you are a patient with heart failure, please contact the Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation at (585) 273-3760.

Learn more about the Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation at URMC.

View this topic in our Health Encyclopedia.

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