Heart failure is a major public health problem, affecting five million Americans. It accounts for approximately 280,000 deaths, 1 million hospitalizations and $35 million in health care costs annually. The most common causes of heart failure in the United States are coronary artery disease and high blood pressure. Some patients also develop heart failure as a consequence of heart valve problems, viral infections or excessive alcohol consumption. Heart failure develops when the damaged heart is no longer able to pump enough blood to meet the demands of vital organs. Its symptoms include labored breathing, fluid accumulation (especially in the legs) and fatigue. The diagnosis of heart failure is established by a patient's medical history, a physical examination and specialized cardiac testing. The term heart “failure” is an unfortunate one, implying a hopeless condition. In reality, heart failure is a very treatable condition. A broad spectrum of treatments and services are available, and at Lahey Clinic, we are proud to offer many of them through our Heart Failure program.
The diagnosis of heart failure is not always obvious, since the symptoms and signs can be mimicked by many other conditions. Through the Heart Failure Clinic, Lahey Clinic provides consultations with physicians experienced in the diagnosis of heart failure, and access to specialized heart tests, as necessary.
A host of medications have been developed to prolong life and improve quality of life for heart failure patients. These medications require careful administration and monitoring, which can be performed by Lahey Clinic cardiologists and staff. As new medications are developed, they are studied in research trials, a number of which Lahey actively participates in.
Patients with heart failure are often elderly and fragile, with multiple other health problems. Consequently, they typically take a number of medications. We believe such patients benefit most from intensive monitoring in specialized heart failure clinics that provide medication adjustments, education, dietary supervision, emotional support and any consultations necessary. Lahey's Heart Failure Clinic is staffed by a nurse practitioner specializing in heart failure and by board-certified cardiologists. As a result of their involvement, our patients experience improved quality of life and reduced hospitalizations.
In the case of specially selected heart failure patients who have not achieved the optimal benefit from conventional treatments, the insertion of special (biventricular) pacemakers often results in significant improvement in symptoms and exercise tolerance.
Lahey Clinic offers heart transplantation evaluation for patients who meet the established eligibility criteria. If transplantation is considered appropriate, the surgery is performed through Lahey's affiliation with the New England Medical Center (NEMC) Transplant Program. While the transplant itself is performed at NEMC, our patients still receive the majority of their care at Lahey.
Patients with acute, life-threatening heart failure occasionally require artificial circulatory support. Lahey Clinic can provide this intervention, either through the conventional aortic balloon pump or through an experimental device that bypasses the main pumping chamber of the heart. In addition, Lahey offers surgically implanted “helper hearts” to carefully selected patients.