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      HealthWACH: Getting On Your Nerves

      COLUMBIA (WACH) - Congestive heart failure is a condition that occurs when the heart can't pump out enough oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body. Itâ??s often a long-term condition but symptoms could come on suddenly. It may affect only the right side or only the left side of the heart. Blood may back up in other areas of the body and fluid may build up in the lungs, liver, gastrointestinal tract, arms, and legs. Heart failure affects more than 6 million people in the United States and is the fastest growing cardiovascular disorder.

      Heart failure can be caused by a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. Another cause is high blood pressure that is not well controlled. This can lead to stiffness and muscle weakening. Coronary artery disease can also be a cause. When plaque builds up in the arteries, less blood can reach the heart, causing it to work harder. Heart attacks can essentially kill parts of the heart muscle which were starved of oxygen, making the heart work more to compensate for the lost muscle. Even lung disease can be a cause: if the lungâ??s ability to provide enough oxygen to the body is impaired, the heart has to compensate by pumping more blood.

      The CardioFit nerve stimulator acts almost like an implantable pacemaker. Itâ??s placed under the skin of the chest and consists of a stimulator, a sensor lead, and a stimulation lead. The sensor lead monitors changes in the heart and a stimulation lead is attached to the vagus nerve, which can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system when stimulated. The parasympathetic nervous system has been shown to be able to reduce heart rate, which in turn reduces the workload on the heart. Current to the nerve is increased based on the response of the heart rate. The CardioFit can be programmed on and off with external wireless communication. It can take about 6 to 12 weeks to respond to the treatment. Vagus nerve stimulation has also been proven to be effective in treating epilepsy and depression. Thereâ??s one vagus nerve on each side of the body, which runs from the brainstem through the neck then to the chest and abdomen.