HealthWACH: Healing hearts without a transplant

HealthWACH: Healing hearts

COLUMBIA (WACH) - Heart failure, despite its name, is not when the heart stops beating all together. Rather it means your heart has stopped pumping enough blood to adequately supply your body. The heartâ??s inability to provide the body with sufficient blood causes it to expand and grow larger in order to hold more blood. Eventually this will wear out the heart, making it even less efficient. Heart failure also causes blood to congest in other parts of the body, like the lungs and vessels. It can also cause other tissue to hold onto fluid. Often this will be in the legs, abdomen, or liver. This â??backing upâ?? is why heart failure is often called congestive heart failure.

Many conditions can lead to heart failure, including the following:

  • Coronary Artery Disease: When plaque builds up in the arteries, less blood can reach the heart, causing it to work harder.

  • Heart attack: 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.

  • Severe lung disease: if the lungâ??s ability to provide enough oxygen to the body is impaired, the heart has to compensate by pumping more blood.

Although they have been around for years, doctors at the University of Pennsylvania are now using left ventricular assist devices (LVAD) in a different way, as a bridge-to-recovery following heart failure or other cardiovascular conditions. As the heart enlarges in order to compensate for injury, the LVAD assists with its blood pumping duties, taking some of the stress off of the heart. The heart slowly regains its strength, and the LVAD system is slowly dialed back as the heart returns to normal functioning, which usually takes between six and nine months. Already in use in Europe, the LVAD bridge-to-recovery has shown 90 percent of patients had no recurrence of their heart failure after two years. (