Advanced Heart Disease: Failure is Not an Option

Heart Failure by the Numbers*

6.5 Million – number of people in the U.S. with heart failure

960,000 - number of new heart failure cases diagnosed each year

250,000 – number of people who die from heart failure each year

What Is Heart Failure?

Contrary to what its name suggests, heart failure does not mean that the heart suddenly stops working. Instead, heart failure occurs as a result of weakened heart muscle. Injury to the heart such as damage caused by a heart attack, high blood pressure, or abnormalities in a heart valve are all causes of muscle weakening. Each of these creates damage that causes the heart to work harder in order to continue the blood flow to the body. Unfortunately, heart failure is often not recognized until its later stages where it is most commonly referred to as congestive heart failure.

Improving the Odds of Living Longer, Better

It's important for people to know about heart failure, how to detect it and how patients should work with cardiologists to improve their odds of living a longer, better quality of life.

Know the risks for heart failure:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Prior heart attack
  • History of heart murmurs or damage to heart valves
  • Enlarged heart
  • Family history of an enlarged heart

Know the Symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing when laying down
  • Weight gain and swelling in the ankles and legs due to fluid retention
  • Fatigue and weakness

Symptoms may be subtle and go undetected. Sometimes they are mistaken for common signs of aging.

Work with Your Cardiologist:

Advanced heart disease cardiologists from the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center use the following to diagnosis the causes and severity of heart failure:

  • A thorough health history
  • Physical examination
  • Initial blood tests
  • Electrocardiogram (also called ECG)
  • Chest radiograph (also called “chest x-ray”)
  • Echocardiogram (also called “echo”)

Treatments to Improve Quality of Life:

“Most patients begin with the basics,” said Nancy K. Sweitzer, MD, PhD, director of the UA Sarver Heart Center and professor of medicine at the UA College of Medicine - Tucson, who is board certified in advanced heart failure and transplant cardiology. “The basics include healthy lifestyle changes, careful monitoring of symptoms and medications that are common to treat other forms of heart disease.”

Lifestyle Checklist for Patients:

Although heart failure is a chronic disease (it will never go away no matter how good a patient feels) it can be treated, and people with heart failure can live content lives for many years if they adhere to the following:

  • Take medications ordered by their doctor
  • Maintain doctor follow-up appointments
  • Monitor daily weights and report weight gains (3-5 pounds in a week)
  • Monitor symptoms and report
  • Follow a proper diet and amount of fluids (Learn how to choose a mostly plant-based diet.)
  • Maintain daily exercise
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine
  • Avoid tobacco use

Read about the 5 most impactful lifestyle choices.

What if the basics aren’t enough?

A number of procedures may be considered. These include implantable defibrillators to protect your heart from life-threatening arrhythmias, pacemakers to coordinate your right and left ventricles, bypass surgery, heart valve surgery, artificial heart or a heart transplant.

Care from a specialized heart failure physician is a good idea if you:

  • Were admitted to the hospital for congestion within the last year
  • Are on medications and still not as active as you would like to be
  • Have suffered from a shock from your defibrillator
  • Have kidney problems related to your heart failure

* Source: "Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2017 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association." Circulation. 2017.


Please remember that heart failure treatment is a team effort, and you are the main player on the team. All team members will assist you in attaining success. But it is up to you to take your medications, make dietary changes, live a healthy lifestyle, keep your follow up appointments, and be an active member of the team. Meet the Sarver Heart Center Advanced Heart Disease Team, physicians who specialize in treating heart failure patients.

For more health information, please visit our Heart Health page.

For physician appointment information, please call 520-MyHeart (694-3278) or 520-626-2000.

For more information about heart failure, visit the Heart Failure Society's patient education modules.

For more information on heart care at Banner - University Medical Center.

If this information is useful to you, please consider a donation to support University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center's research and education mission.

For more health information, please visit our  Heart Health page.

For physician appointment information, please call 520-MyHeart (694-3278).

If you appreciate the content found on our website, please consider a donation to the Sarver Heart Center.