Heart failure

Heart failure means that your heart cannot pump an adequate amount of blood through the body. When experiencing heart failure, your body doesn’t get the oxygen it needs, causing fatigue, appetite loss and kidney failure.

Heart failure specialists at the University of Maryland Heart Center offer the full spectrum of treatment for heart failure, ranging from medical management to heart transplantation. We are advancing the treatment of heart failure, pioneering new techniques including home monitoring (to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations) and minimally invasive procedures to implant a ventricular assist device (VAD).

Symptoms of Heart Failure

Since heart failure can progress rapidly, it is important to consult a physician immediately if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Weight loss

  • Swelling of feet and ankles or abdomen

  • Pronounced neck veins

  • Loss of appetite or indigestion

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Shortness of breath that occurs with activity or after lying down for a while

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Fatigue, weakness, faintness

  • Sensation of feeling the heart beat (palpitations) or an irregular or rapid pulse

  • Decreased alertness or concentration

  • Chronic cough

  • Decreased urine production or need to urinate at night

Causes & Risk Factors

Heart failure has many causes:

  • Heart damage: Heart failure can be the result of heart damage from a heart or circulation disease

  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the most common causes of heart failure. Learn more about high blood pressure

  • Coronary artery disease: Coronary artery disease, the most common cause of heart attack, is the result of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Learn more about coronary artery disease

  • Damage after a heart attack: After a heart attack, patients may develop heart failure from the damage the heart attack caused to the heart muscles. Learn more about heart attack

  • Valvular heart disease: Heart valve abnormalities can lead to heart failure. Learn more about valve disease

  • Myocarditis: Inflammation of the heart muscle may occur because of viral infections or other causes. 

Diagnosing Heart Failure

We begin the diagnosis by taking your medical history and performing a careful physical examination. We will then order tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests and scans can show us an enlargement of the heart or decreased heart functioning. It is important to receive an accurate diagnosis from a heart team with expertise and experience in treating heart failure patients. The more accurate your diagnosis, the more effective your treatment can be.

Learn more about cardiac diagnosis.

Heart Failure Treatments

After confirming your diagnosis, we will create an individualized care plan for you. Our heart failure team takes the time to get to know you, so we can plan a course of treatment that meets your specific needs and situation. We offer the full spectrum treatment options for heart failure, from medication to heart transplantation.

  • Lifestyle modifications can keep heart failure from getting worse. This includes a balanced, low-sodium diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and quitting smoking.
  • Medications to treat heart failure can have a number of goals: lower blood pressure, reduce the amount of fluid in the body, improve circulation, slow the heart rate and prevent irregular heartbeats. We will plan a medication regimen for you to follow and monitor you closely to ensure you feel a relief of symptoms. 
  • Devices to treat heart failure include pacemakers to help pace the heart and intracardiac defibrillators (ICDs) that shock the heart back to its regular rhythm. Learn more about ICDs and Pacemakers
  • Heart failure surgery includes:
    • Mitral valve surgery: You may need surgery to repair or replace your heart’s mitral valve. Learn more about mitral valve repair and replacement
    • Heart transplant: We may recommend a heart transplant for patients with advanced heart failure who continue to have severe symptoms despite maximal medical therapy. Learn more about our Heart & Lung Transplant Program
    • VAD program: Ventricular assist devices help patients who are waiting for a new heart. We are innovating new VAD techniques such as a minimally invasive implantation procedure and a new VAD for use in children. Learn more about VADs.

Advanced Heart Failure Treatments

We are leading the way in advanced heart failure treatments. Our patients have access to the latest treatments as well as the opportunity to participate in clinical trials. Meet our Team.

Some of our advanced techniques include:

  • Telemonitoring: Through a demonstration grant from Medicare, our physicians are testing whether home monitoring of heart failure is successful in preventing hospitalizations and improving quality of life. We give patients home monitoring units, such as scales and blood pressure cuffs. Patients send the results sent directly to a server at the University of Maryland. 
  • Genomics: Our researchers are investigating how migrating adult stem cells have the potential to target damaged areas of the heart and create homes. These cells could then take over the function of the damaged muscle. 
  • Sleep monitoring: Many patients with heart failure also experience sleep disturbances. Maryland Heart Center physicians monitor and evaluate patients in the University of Maryland Sleep Center and make recommendations for appropriate treatment to minimize these disturbances.
  • Mechanical circulatory support devices (ventricular assist devices): University of Maryland Heart Center physicians have extensive experience placing and managing left ventricular and bi-ventricular assist devices. Learn more about ventricular assist devices (VAD). 
  • ACORN CorCap: University of Maryland physicians are evaluating the ACORN CorCap, a mesh bag placed over an enlarged heart. The mesh prevents the heart from enlarging, improves the heart's function and may help the heart revert toward normal function. The ACORN is not for people who are going to need a transplant; its purpose is to keep them from needing one.

For more information or to make an appointment, please call 1-866-408-6885.

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