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How Advances In Treating Heart Failure Have Improved Quality of Life For Patients

Heart failure can't be cured, but it can be managed, to live longer and feel better.
Heart failure can't be cured, but it can be managed, to live longer and feel better.

Heart failure — when the heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs — can be deadly. 

But a diagnosis today is far from a death sentence, and while the illness can't be cured, it can be managed.  

Around 5.7 million people in the U.S. have heart failure. The CDC estimates half the people who develop it will die within five years of diagnosis. 

However, medical advances have made it possible for many patients with heart failure to feel better and live longer, says Dr. Justin Grodin. He's an advanced heart failure specialist with Texas Health Dallas and an assistant professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center.  

He spoke to us about the latest medications and other approaches for treating heart failure.

What causes heart failure

"About half of the cases are caused by blockages in the blood vessels. The other half — some of it can be related to hormone issues, toxins, viruses, bacterial infections affecting the heat valves, heart valvular abnormalities, arrhythmias."

Some causes are preventable

"For example, one great way to prevent heart failure is to eat healthy. Watch the salt in our diets. Make sure our blood pressure is under control. We know obesity's associated with an increase incidence of heart failure, as is diabetes."

Improvements in treatments over recent years

"When a body has a weak heart or, specifically, if they have a failing heart, where the squeeze of the heart is abnormally low, we have therapies based on a lot of clinical trials that can make patients live longer, feel better and stay out of the hospital.

"These therapies actually target the body's response to preserve bodily function in the setting of someone who has a weak heart. We've actually figured out over time that blocking these responses can improve outcomes."

New medications

"Over the past five years, we've had two new medications that have come on the market. One is Ivabradine. The other is  Sacubitril/Valsartan — it's the first medication in decades that translates to improved outcomes on top of otherwise standard care. Those are incrementally better to the pharmacotherapies we were using in the early 2010s.

"There are also experimental therapies that are targeting specific types of heart conditions that might cause heart failure that would then translate to better outcomes."

Transplants and heart pumps

"In patients no longer responsive to some of those other therapies, their advanced heart failure might merit a heart transplant.

But "in some who might not be a candidate for a transplant — we now have the ability to place a surgically implanted pump into the left side of the heart. We call this a left ventricular assist device or LVAD. This is sewn into the heart, and it diverts blood flow away from the failing left side of the heart and actually provides blood flow to the body and the brain.

"Patients improve their quality of life, they live longer and they feel better."


These interview highlights were edited lightly for clarity.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.