The Stages of Heart Failure

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The four heart failure stages present their own set of treatments. Precise diagnosis of heart failure and customized treatment for your condition are reasons more patients in Louisville and Southern Indiana entrust Norton Heart & Vascular Institute with their heart failure care than any other provider in the area.

Our team of board-certified and fellowship-trained specialists and advanced practice providers at the Norton Heart & Vascular Institute Advanced Heart Failure and Recovery Program have the experience and expertise to diagnose the progress of your heart failure and provide treatments including lifestyle guidance, medication, mechanical circulation devices and heart transplants.

The first steps in our specialists’ heart failure treatment plan are lifestyle recommendations and medication. Our goal will be to halt or slow the progression of your heart failure and improve your quality of life by reducing symptoms such as shortness of breath, decreased function and inability to tolerate exertion.

Norton Heart & Vascular Institute has a robust program of clinical research trials that includes innovative treatment for heart failure.

The Four Heart Failure Stages

No Symptoms, No Limitations

At high risk for heart failure, but no structural heart disease or symptoms of heart failure.

A family history of heart failure or conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, rheumatic fever, alcohol abuse, medications that can damage the heart muscle and other conditions.

Treatment options

  • Lifestyle adjustments including daily exercise
  • Stop smoking
  • Treatment for high blood pressure, high cholesterol
  • ACE inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Statins

Mild Symptoms and Slight Limitations

Typical symptoms at this stage include mild shortness of breath and/or angina. This usually will be revealed in an echocardiogram that shows a weakened left ventricle that has 40% or less ejection fraction (a measure of the heart’s pumping ability).

Treatment options

  • Lifestyle adjustments: exercise, stop smoking
  • ACE inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Beta blockers
  • Remote, wireless monitor for subtle changes to internal volume status (CardioMEMS)
  • Implanted cardioverter defibrillator
  • Wearable cardioverter defibrillator (LifeVest)
  • Revascularization or valvular surgery as appropriate

Significant Activity Limitation Due to Symptoms

Systolic heart failure (reduced ejection fraction). The left ventricle has weakened, possibly because it has become enlarged and can’t contract properly. Additional details on systolic heart failure.

Diastolic heart failure (preserved ejection fraction). The left ventricle can’t fill properly with blood, resulting in less blood pumped through the body. Additional details on diastolic heart failure.

Treatment options

  • Pre-heart failure treatments
  • Diuretics to reduce fluid retention
  • ACE inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Beta blocker
  • Aldosterone antagonist
  • Revascularization or valve surgery
  • Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT)
  • Implanted cardioverter defibrillator
  • Wearable cardioverter defibrillator (LifeVest)
  • Remote, wireless monitor for subtle changes to internal volume status (CardioMEMS)

Severe Limitations With Symptoms Even While Resting

These patients are very limited in movement and spend large amounts of time in bed. Patients at this point have undergone recurrent hospitalizations despite guideline-directed medical therapy.

Treatment options

  • Heart transplant
  • Ventricular assist device
  • Constant infusion of inotrope drugs to address the force of the heartbeat
  • Experimental surgery or medication

Heart and Vascular Care for the Whole Person

Norton Heart & Vascular Institute offers patient resources to support you and your family, including free classes for people of all ages who are seeking to improve cardiovascular health or living with a heart condition.

Cardiac Rehabilitation Program

Our cardiac rehabilitation providers are leaders in developing and applying innovative techniques that can help you recover and resume your life.

Connecting Hearts Support Group

The group provides education and support to individuals who have had a heart attack, are living with a heart condition or are at risk for cardiovascular disease.

Heart Health Screenings

Prevention is the best way to manage heart disease, and screenings are available to detect early signs of cardiac and vascular disease and identify risk factors.

About Norton Heart & Vascular Institute

Every year, more than 137,000 people in Louisville and Southern Indiana choose Norton Heart & Vascular Institute specialists for their heart and vascular care. That’s more than any other health care provider.

  • Norton Healthcare’s adult-service hospitals in Louisville all have received Chest Pain Center accreditation from the American College of Cardiology (ACC). This is the seventh consecutive accreditation for all four hospitals, which ensures quality for the treatment of heart attack.
  • Norton Audubon Hospital, Norton Brownsboro Hospital and Norton Hospital all are recognized as having ACC Chest Pain Center with Primary PCI accreditation.
  • Norton Healthcare has the most facilities across the city of Louisville with the ability treat a life-threatening heart attack.
  • You have access to more than 100 physicians and advanced practice providers with specialized training and experience in a comprehensive range of conditions and treatments.
  • Patients can make appointments at 28 locations in Louisville and Southern Indiana. Telecardiology is offered at more than 30 sites in the region.
  • Norton Audubon Hospital, a key location for Norton Heart & Vascular Institute services, has been recognized with a HeartCare Center National Distinction of Excellence year after year by the American College of Cardiology. This is the only hospital in Louisville to be recognized for this distinction.
  • U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals ranked Norton Healthcare adult-service Louisville hospitals high performing in heart attack and heart failure 2022-23.
  • Norton Audubon Hospital earned ventricular assist device (VAD) accreditation from DNV – Healthcare and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
  • Communicate with your health care provider, renew prescriptions, get lab results and more through your free Norton MyChart account.

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