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Heart Failure

Heart failure is a long-term heart disease that can affect your daily life and activities. At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center, our experienced team of heart specialists can help.

Your heart team provides a level of care unmatched in the region, with expertise in all modalities of care even for the most complex cases. We work closely with you and your loved ones so that you understand the condition, your treatment options and what to expect. With our expert care, you can live a healthier, more active life.

What Is Heart Failure?

Heart failure develops when the heart cannot effectively pump enough blood and oxygen to the body. The low blood flow leaves you feeling tired and out of breath, but heart failure doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped. 

Heart failure can worsen and cause fluid to build up in your body, possibly damaging other organs over time. Our renowned cardiologists and heart surgeons can treat all stages of heart failure — from early to advanced — and its underlying causes.

Symptoms of Heart Failure

The signs and symptoms of heart failure usually start gradually, appearing when you’re physically active. As heart failure worsens, you may notice symptoms even at rest. Signs and symptoms that you may experience include: 

  • constant coughing or wheezing, which may worsen when lying down
  • fatigue or weakness that makes everyday tasks difficult
  • increased need to urinate at night
  • lack of appetite and nausea
  • memory loss, confusion and difficulty concentrating
  • rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • shortness of breath, especially when lying down or with activity
  • swelling in your belly, legs, ankles or feet and weight gain, all due to fluid buildup

Causes and Risk Factors of Heart Failure

The main causes of heart failure are diseases that damage the heart. Our heart specialists can often slow the progress of heart failure by managing these underlying conditions. 

Heart conditions that can lead to heart failure include:

Other conditions that can lead to heart failure include:

Complications of Heart Failure

Our heart team can help you manage heart failure with lifestyle changes and medications to manage symptoms and treat other conditions. Sometimes, heart failure worsens even with treatment, leading to complications such as:

  • Pulmonary edema: Fluid builds up in the lungs, making it hard to breathe. If it comes on suddenly, it requires emergency treatment.
  • Arrhythmia: Rapid or irregular heartbeats can either cause or result from heart failure. Our doctors can treat arrhythmias with medications, devices or minimally invasive procedures.
  • Kidney damage: Reduced blood flow to your kidneys can affect kidney function. You may need dialysis to treat kidney damage from heart failure.
  • Heart valve disease: Heart valves open and close to keep blood flowing through your heart. With heart failure, the heart must work harder to pump blood to the body, so it grows larger. The increased size can damage heart valves.
  • Liver damage: Fluid buildup can lead to scarring in the liver, affecting liver function.

Preventing Heart Failure

The key to preventing heart failure is reducing your risk of heart disease and other conditions. Along with medical treatment, your care team also supports you in adopting healthy lifestyle habits to reduce your risk. Find out more about heart disease prevention services at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Diagnosing Heart Failure

At the Heart & Vascular Center, we perform a thorough evaluation to confirm a heart failure diagnosis. Our advanced testing helps us determine the underlying causes so we can plan the right treatments for you. Learn more about our process for diagnosing heart failure

Heart Failure Treatments

We offer every available treatment for heart failure to relieve your symptoms, treat underlying causes and help slow its progress. Medications, implantable devices (ICD and pacemakers), left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) and heart transplantation can improve your quality of life. Learn more about our full spectrum of heart failure treatments and our approach to heart failure and transplantation at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Our Heart Failure Team

Our heart team has received national ranking for cardiology and heart surgery from U.S.News & World Report. We are the only team within several hundred miles of St. Louis with the expertise to perform advanced surgeries for people with late-stage heart failure. 

Our heart failure team includes: 

  • cardiologists, doctors who treat heart conditions using nonsurgical treatments
  • cardiac (heart) surgeons who specialize in surgeries to implant mechanical heart devices and provide heart transplants
  • electrophysiologists, cardiologists who diagnose and treat heart rhythm disorders
  • interventional cardiologists who perform minimally invasive procedures using catheters
  • expert nurses with training and experience to specialize in cardiac care
  • social workers, dietitians, physical therapists and other providers for treatment and support services 

Research for Heart Failure Care

We are one of a few centers nationwide selected by the National Institutes of Health for its Heart Failure Clinical Research Network. This research group is dedicated to improving our understanding of heart failure and discovering new treatment options. 

Through these and other studies, you have access to promising new drug therapies and devices for heart failure. Learn more about our innovation in cardiovascular disease and clinical trials available through our partnership with the Washington University School of Medicine. 

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University heart failure specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 888-230-8832.