Jennifer's Story - Heart Failure at 32
After a heart attack left 32-year-old Jennifer Cheak, a mother of two young boys, with a faint heartbeat and little hope, she was transferred via Life Flight to Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute in Houston
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Erika's Story - Congestive Heart Failure at 29
Erika was just 29 years-old when she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Nearly a year after the birth of her first child, she began to experience shortness of breath along with other concerning symptoms. As her health began to deteriorate, she was immediately referred to Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital.
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Heart Failure Causes & Symptoms
The most common causes of heart failure are coronary heart
disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Other causes include cardiomyopathy
or heart muscle disease, heart valve disease, arrhythmias and congenital heart
defects. Treatments for cancer, such as radiation and chemotherapy, thyroid
disorders, drug or alcohol abuse, HIV/AIDS or too much vitamin E may also
injure the heart muscle and lead to heart failure.
The most common signs and symptoms of heart failure are:
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen and
veins in the neck
These symptoms are caused by fluid buildup in the body,
which also causes weight gain, frequent urination and a cough that’s worse at
night or when you’re lying down.
As your heart grows weaker, symptoms worsen. You
may begin to feel tired and short of breath after walking across the room. As heart
failure advances, you may find that you are short of breath while lying in bed.
Diagnosis of Heart Failure
Early diagnosis and treatment can help people who have heart
failure live longer, more active lives. At the Memorial Hermann Heart &
Vascular Institute, specialists diagnose heart failure based on your medical
and family history, a physical exam and test results. They will examine you for
the conditions that can cause heart failure – coronary heart disease, high
blood pressure or diabetes – and rule out other causes of your symptoms.
No single test can diagnose heart failure. If you have signs
and symptoms of heart failure, the affiliated specialists at the Center for
Advanced Heart Failure will recommend one or more tests:
- An electrocardiogram (EKG) records the heart’s
electrical activity, shows how fast your heart is beating and may show whether
the walls in your heart’s pumping chambers are thicker than normal, making it
harder for your heart to pump blood.
- A chest X-ray can show whether your heart is
enlarged, you have fluid in your lungs or have lung disease.
- A BNP blood test checks the level of brain
natriuretic peptide in your blood; BNP is a hormone that increases during heart
- An echocardiogram uses sound waves to create a
moving picture of your heart, showing how well the chambers of your heart and
- Doppler ultrasound uses sound waves to measure
the speed and direction of blood flow.
- A Holter monitor records your heart’s electrical
activity for a 24- or 48-hour period as you continue your normal routine.
- A nuclear heart scan shows how well blood is
flowing through your heart and how much blood is reaching your heart muscle.
- Cardiac catheterization allows your specialist
to check the pressure and blood flow in your heart.
- Coronary angiography is done during
catheterization and uses a dye that allows your heart specialist to see the
flow of blood to the heart muscle.
- A stress test, during which you walk or run on a
treadmill or pedal a bicycle, allows your doctor to see how your heart
functions when it’s beating fast.
- Cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can
show if parts of your heart are damaged.
Treatment of Heart Failure
When symptoms of heart failure worsen despite lifestyle
changes and medication, you may be diagnosed with advanced heart failure. About 10 percent of the 5.7 million
Americans living with heart failure have advanced heart failure – stage D
according to the American Heart Association and American College of
Cardiology’s A-to-D staging system. Treatment for advanced heart failure is
more complex, involving the implantation of devices or, when all other
treatments are no longer effective, heart transplantation.
Ventricular Assist Devices
Life-saving and therapeutic,
ventricular assist devices (VADs) are implantable mechanical circulatory
devices that help pump blood from the left ventricle of the heart to the body.
VADs are designed to partially or completely replace the functions of a failing
heart in patients with severe heart failure, either as a bridge to heart transplantation
or as a long-term destination treatment for those who cannot receive a
transplant. Most often, VADs are designed to assist the left ventricle of the
heart (LVAD), but devices may also be used to assist the right ventricle (RVAD)
or both ventricles (BiVAD). VADs significantly ease the burden on the heart and
other organs, providing a higher survival rate and better quality of life.
Total Artificial Heart
Despite growing demand, only
approximately 2,200 donor hearts become available each year in the United
States. When a donor heart is unavailable and both cardiac ventricles fail, a
temporary SynCardia Total Artificial Heart is used as a bridge to
transplantation and can eliminate the symptoms and source of end-stage
biventricular failure. As soon as patients are stabilized following surgery,
they are returned to the active transplant list.
When all other treatments for heart
failure have been unsuccessful, physicians may refer a patient for heart
transplant. Advanced heart failure is staged on a four-point scale; as severity
increases, patients enter stage four or end-stage heart failure, making them
eligible for transplantation. Once transplant candidates have undergone a
thorough screening process, they are placed on the national transplant list and
monitored while awaiting a donor heart. If the transplant candidate’s condition
begins to decline, intravenous medications, total artificial heart or ventricle
assist device implantation may be recommended until a donor heart is available.
The heart specialists practicing at the Center for Advanced Heart Failure at the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-Texas Medical Center are leaders in the management and diagnosis of heart failure, especially in the case of more complex disease. With appropriate medical and surgical intervention and healthy lifestyle habits, patients with heart failure can continue to live full and productive lives.
Specialists at the Center for Advanced Heart Failure at the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-Texas Medical Center provide treatment for more complex cases, including medical management, percutaneous interventions and surgery.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, fill out the form at the top of this page or call (713) 704-4300.