Treatment for heart failure includes rest, oxygen, medication (like digitalis) that strengthens the pumping ability of the heart, and medication that prevents irregular heart rhythms. Patients take diuretic medications to help the kidneys remove more salt and water from the blood and thus decrease the volume of blood the heart must pump.
Doctors often prescribe low-sodium diets to prevent water buildup in the blood and tissues (salt tends to cause fluid to accumulate in the body). In more severe or chronic cases, they may give a drug to expand the blood vessels and thus make it easier for the heart to pump blood through them. Newer medications known as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors have been very effective in treating heart failure.
In some cases, the original cause of the heart failure can be corrected. For example, surgeons may perform bypass surgery on the coronary arteries to improve blood supply to the heart muscle. Surgery may also replace or correct a faulty heart valve or repair an aneurysm. Contributing factors to be controlled or eliminated include high blood pressure, anemia, excess salt or alcohol intake, fever, an overactive thyroid gland and stress caused by overexertion.
Patients with very severe heart failure are at high risk of life-threatening alterations in heart rhythm. In some cases, doctors may recommend the insertion of an implantable defibrillator, a device that corrects such rhythm disturbances.
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