Heart and Vascular Institute – Heart Failure

If you’re one of millions of Americans living with heart failure, we can help. The Heart and Vascular Institute brings together a full range of services for the management and treatment of heart failure. We’ll work with you to provide the most convenient and effective care possible at all stages, including transplant, pacing and mechanical pumping assistance. 

Make an appointment

To schedule an appointment at any Penn State Heart and Vascular Institute location, please call 
1-877-467-7484

Our program has been recognized for quality of care by the Joint Commission and the American Heart Association. To make an appointment, please call 877-467-7484.

What is heart failure?

Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, means the heart is not able to pump oxygen-rich blood out of the heart and to the rest of the body. Heart failure can be caused by:

  • Coronary artery disease, or not enough blood flow to the heart muscle.
  • Chronic high blood pressure that, over time, has stiffened the left main pumping chamber (ventricle) of the heart.
  • Irregular heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation, where the upper chambers of the heart (atrium) are beating much faster than the lower chambers (ventricles). This keeps the blood from flowing swiftly out of the heart to the rest of the body.
  • Faulty heart valves, that either don’t close properly (regurgitation) or don't open well (stenosis).

Talk with your health care team about the cause of your heart failure and what steps you should take.

Complete, advanced care at all stages

Learning you have heart failure can be overwhelming. You and your family need one-on-one guidance tailored to your diagnosis and needs. Our team works with you to adjust your medication and treatment plan for the best results.

Our heart failure cardiologists will assess your condition and needs, and may offer you the option to enroll in clinical trials of new and promising treatments. We’ll monitor your progress and condition to make sure the treatment plan is working.

We may recommend cardiac rehabilitation, a tailored approach that draws expertise from physicians, nurses, exercise physiologists and registered dietitians.

Whatever your needs, our specially trained nurse practitioners will work with you, your caregivers and your doctors to create a complete plan of care. Your plan may include telephone management, remote electronic monitoring and scheduled clinic visits at convenient locations.

Your heart failure team works with other specialists in the Heart and Vascular Institute, including electrophysiologists (cardiologists who specialize in treating heart rhythm disturbances) and cardiac surgeons. You may see these and other specialists to treat symptoms of heart failure.

Diagnosis

Heart failure is diagnosed by your doctor, but a number of tests are used to best understand your heart disease. Some tests may also be also be used to monitor your condition after starting treatment. Some of the tests you might need include:

  • Echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to create a picture of your heart.
  • Stress echocardiogram, which uses ultrasound imaging to show how well your heart is working.
  • Nuclear thallium test, which uses radioactive materials called tracers to show the heart’s chambers.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) 
  • Heart catheterization, passing a thin flexible tube (catheter) into the right or left side of the heart to see the heart and blood vessels or to treat certain heart conditions.
  • Chest X-ray.
  • Metabolic bike test, to see how well your heart and lungs work under stress.

Living with heart failure

You can live an active life, even with heart failure. The key is to work with your health care provider to manage your heart failure. Here are some guidelines:

  • Monitor and record your weight daily. If you suddenly lose or gain a lot of weight, tell your doctor.
  • Remember the symptoms of heart failure, and let your doctor know if you have:
    • Weight gain
    • Fatigue (often feeling tired)
    • Swollen feet and legs
    • Shortness of breath
    • Bloated abdomen or stomach area
    • Nausea
    • Feeling of fullness after eating only a small amount
    • Waking up at night with trouble breathing
    • A cough that worsens when lying down
    • Having to urinate more often at night
    • Confusion or feeling mixed up
  • Limit sodium (salt) to 2,000 milligrams or less a day.
  • Take your medicine as directed, every time.
  • Stay active and get plenty of exercise.
  • See your doctor often so you can take care of any problems before they worsen.

If you have questions or need to contact your heart failure team, call 877-467-7484.

Monitoring and controlling heart rhythms

At some point, you may need a device to monitor and control your heart rhythm or to coordinate your heart function. Your options might include:

  • Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) biventricular pacemaker. This device is implanted under the skin by an electrophysiologist and helps coordinate the heartbeat and relieve symptoms.
  • Defibrillator. This device delivers electric jolts to the heart to stop dangerous heart rhythms.

Advanced therapies for those with end stage heart failure

If your heart failure gets worse and does not respond to medical therapy, our team provides the latest proven surgical options and a level of care that is unmatched in the region. We’ve designed a care process that can be tailored to your needs and life, from pre-surgery appointments through recovery and long-term transitional care.

Our surgeons are skilled in surgical treatments, including:

  • Total artificial heart
  • Heart transplant surgery
  • Ventricular assist device (VAD), a pump that can be used as a short-term bridge to transplant or as destination therapy (a long-term solution).

Our team in your corner

To give you the best possible care and support, our heart failure team includes:

  • Advanced intervention care coordinators
  • A cardiology-specific pharmacist
  • A cardiology-assigned chaplain
  • Clinical research coordinators
  • A palliative care coordinator
  • A social worker
  • Transitional care coordinators

Make an appointment

We serve patients at multiple convenient locations