heart drawing


Heart failure happens over time as the heart weakens and isn’t able to pump as well as it used to. Fluid starts to build up in your lungs and body tissue, causing swelling, shortness of breath, and fatigue.

Approaches to heart failure treatment vary by the cause of failure, type of failure, and severity of your condition. Usually, some combination of lifestyle changes, medication, and surgery are needed to strengthen your heart and reduce symptoms.

Treatment focuses on one of three goals:

  • Recovery
  • Repair
  • Replacement

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Heart Recovery

Recovery looks at ways to help your heart strengthen itself. Make sure you quit smoking, follow a healthy diet that is low in sodium, and add in regular exercise, as these are essential to building up your heart.

Medication may also be part of allowing your heart to recover by helping your heart work more efficiently. Medications also help reduce symptoms. Common heart failure medications include:

  • Beta blockers to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate.
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors lower the workload of the heart, helping to slow heart failure and lessen your symptoms.
  • Hydralazine and nitrates to relax the blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure and making your heart have to do less work. These may be prescribed for people who can’t take ACE inhibitors.
  • Diuretics help you pass fluid out of your body to reduce swelling.

Your doctor will also help you manage any conditions that led to heart failure, such as coronary artery disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure.

Heart Repair

When heart failure is more severe or medical management isn’t helping enough, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair the damage.

Heart surgeons can remove or rebuild damaged part parts of heart valve tissue or even replace severely damaged valves and blood vessels.

In some cases, you may want to consider a pacemaker. A pacemaker is an implanted device that sends electrical pulses to your heart. This helps the ventricles pump blood at the same rate and can slow the progression of heart failure.

Heart Replacement

When other options aren’t helping, your doctor may consider a ventricular assist device (VAD), also known as an artificial heart, or a heart replacement. Your doctor will talk with you about whether you are a candidate for these options.

Heart failure is a chronic condition. It’s important to work with your doctor to develop a heart failure treatment plan that gives your heart support and the chance to heal.

To learn more about heart failure treatment and management, visit the UPMC Advanced Heart Failure Center. Want to learn more about heart failure in general? View our heart failure infographic.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine.