More than five million Americans live with heart failure, a condition that happens when your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. Heart failure can be mild to severe, and treatment options vary based on your individual needs.
If you’re living with heart failure, you’ll have a team of experts to care for you. Meet the members of your heart failure care team and find out how they work together to help you manage your condition.
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The Members of Your Heart Failure Team
A cardiologist is a doctor who diagnoses and treats heart conditions. Your cardiology team may consist of one or both of the following subspecialists:
- A heart failure medical cardiologist, who will manage your case and develop a treatment plan. This will usually include lifestyle changes, medicines, and recommendations for other therapies such as medical devices or surgery. Your cardiologist also will provide follow-up care to track your symptoms, measure your heart function, and make any necessary changes to your treatment plan.
- An electrophysiologist, who manages and treats heart rhythm disorders and can insert a pacemaker or defibrillator, depending on your needs.
Your Cardiac Surgeon
A cardiac surgeon is a doctor who performs heart surgery. Depending on your needs, you may have a cardiac surgeon to repair damaged heart valves or, in very advanced cases, place a ventricular assist device (VAD) or perform a heart transplant.
Your Physician Assistant and Nurse Practitioner
Physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) have advanced training in caring for patients and work directly with your cardiologist to provide ongoing care. Your PA or NP may perform physical exams, help with or perform treatments and procedures, and provide ongoing follow-up care.
Your Registered Nurse Coordinator
The registered nurse coordinator has special training in caring for patients with heart failure. Your registered nurse coordinator will work with your doctor to manage your care, including checking your physical and emotional health at visits, tracking your lab work and test results, and teaching you and your family how to prevent complications, decrease side effects, and manage your condition at home.
Most people with heart failure take several types of medicines. Your pharmacist is a medication expert who will help you understand and manage your medicine, and answer questions about possible side effects and drug interactions.
Your Registered Dietitian
Your registered dietitian, an expert in food and nutrition, will help you make changes to your diet as part of your treatment plan. This may include lowering the amount of sodium you consume, watching your fluid intake, and making heart-healthy choices for each meal and snack.
Your Exercise Physiologist
An expert in exercise, your exercise physiologist will make a plan for regular physical activity that is safe for you based on your condition, activity level, and treatment goals.
Your Palliative Care Coordinator
Palliative care is a resource for people with serious, life-limiting illnesses and their families. Your palliative care coordinator can help you manage the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of heart failure by creating a support system that may include counselors, clergy, social workers, and other specialists to help maximize your quality of life throughout the treatment process.
A bioengineer designs and maintains medical devices and equipment that take over when parts of the body, like the heart, can no longer work the right way. If you have a VAD. a device that helps your heart pump, your bioengineer will teach you to care for your device and provide ongoing support to keep it running properly. Bioengineers are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for patients and families.
Your Transplant Coordinator
A transplant coordinator is a specially trained health care professional who serves as the main point of contact between you and your medical team. Your transplant coordinator will provide you and your caregivers with information about being on the transplant wait list, talk with you about what happens when a heart becomes available, and coordinate follow-up care after your transplant.
Your Social Worker
A social worker is a specially trained, licensed professional with experience in providing support to patients and their caregivers. Your social worker can help you find resources to manage the emotional, physical, social, and financial aspects of your diagnosis and treatment plan.
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. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.