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Hot-Wiring Failing Hearts
BACKGROUND: Heart failure affects 5 million Americans and leads to 300,000 deaths every year, according to the National Institutes of Health. The condition takes place when the heart can't pump blood to the body as quickly as required. Decreased blood flow to the organs causes a cascade of events that damage the body and worsen the heart failure. Heart failure normally takes place after the heart sustains damage or is placed under stress by high blood pressure. These events cause the heart to change shape and thus function less efficiently, according to Heart Failure Online.
SYMPTOMS: Symptoms that your heart may be failing include: swollen ankles or legs, which may be caused by right-sided heart failure; shortness of breath; chest or arm discomfort; fatigue; weight gain or loss, which can be caused by excess fluid in the body; and loss of appetite. Fluid accumulation caused by heart failure in the digestive organs can cause a feeling of fullness.
TREATMENT: Heart failure is treated with a variety of approaches, including medication, lifestyle changes and surgery. Medications prescribed for the condition include ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure and thus reduce strain on the heart, beta blockers to slow the heart rate, and digoxin to make the heart beat stronger. If a patient suffers severe heart failure, a device like an implantable cardioverter defibrillator or cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) device may be implanted during surgery. Defibrillators are implanted to correct a rapid, irregular heartbeat caused by heart failure while CRTs are implanted to help both sides of the heart contract in unison. Mechanical heart pumps are devices that help pump blood from the heart to the rest of the body and are used as either temporary or long-term therapy. Heart transplants are performed in patients with end-stage heart failure when other treatments have failed.
A NEW APPROACH: A clinical trial is underway to evaluate an experimental device's effectiveness at treating heart failure. The CVRx Rheos System is a pacemaker-like device designed to lower high blood pressure and heart failure by manually activating the carotid arteries in the neck. A device that is implanted under the skin near the collarbone sends energy through leads to electrodes that are surgically placed on the carotid arteries. The arteries send signals to the brain that tell it to lower blood pressure by relaxing arteries, slowing heart rate and reducing fluid build-up. This chain of events ultimately reduces risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure and kidney disease.