Heart Failure Program

Penn State Heart and Vascular Institute provides a full range of services in the management and treatment of heart failure, and has been recognized nationally for quality care by the Joint Commission and the American Heart Association. Our vision is to provide unsurpassed heart failure care by offering comprehensive care for you at the time of initial diagnosis, advanced heart failure (including the need for ventricular assist support, heart transplant, or total artificial heart), and all points in between.

To make an appointment, please call 877-467-7484.

What is heart failure?

Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure, is a common health problem in the United States, in which the heart is not able to pump oxygen-rich blood out of the heart and to the rest of the body. There may be several reasons for the heart not to function properly, including:

  • Coronary artery disease—meaning that there is not enough blood flow to the heart muscle.
  • Chronic high blood pressure that, over time, has stiffened the left main pumping chamber (ventricle) of the heart.
  • Irregular heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation, where the upper chambers of the heart (atrium) are beating much faster than the lower chambers (ventricles), not allowing the blood to flow swiftly out of the heart to the rest of the body.
  • Heart valves that either don't' close properly (regurgitation or insufficient) or don't open well (stenosis).

Talk with your health care provider about the cause of your heart failure.

Heart failure care at all stages at Penn State Hershey

Learning you have heart failure can be overwhelming. You and your family receive one-on-one teaching specific to the underlying cause of your heart failure diagnosis. Our staff works with you to adjust medications and your treatment plan according to the American College of Cardiology and Heart Failure Society of America guidelines to maximize positive outcomes.

The heart failure cardiologists provide you with thorough evaluation, management, and if applicable, opportunities to participate in cutting-edge research for heart failure. Our team consistently re-assesses each patient's condition to ensure that the most effective course of medical care is being used. Many of our patients are able to participate in cardiac rehabilitation, receiving an individualized program that incorporates the expertise of physicians, nurses, exercise physiologists and registered dietitians.

Your care team also includes nurse practitioners who will develop, with you, your caregivers and your physician, a plan of care that offers telephone management, remote monitoring through technology, and clinic visits at convenient locations.

Your heart failure team works very closely with their colleagues in other specialties in the Heart and Vascular Institute, including electrophysiologists (cardiologists who specialize in treating heart rhythm disturbances) and cardiac surgeons. Your care plan may include referrals to these, or other, heart and vascular specialists to treat symptoms associated with advanced heart failure.

How is heart failure diagnosed?

Heart failure is diagnosed by your doctor, but a number of tests are used to best understand your heart disease. Some of these tests may also be also be performed to monitor heart failure progression after starting treatment.

Living with heart failure

It is possible to live an active life, even after a diagnosis of heart failure. The key is to work with your health care provider to control your heart failure using the following treatment plan.

  • Monitor and record your weight daily
    • Note any significant weight changes in a short period of time and talk with your health care provider
  • Be mindful of heart failure signs and symptoms and let your health care provider know if you have any of these signs and symptoms:
    • Weight gain
    • Fatigue
    • Swollen feet and legs
    • Shortness of breath
    • Bloated abdomen
    • Nausea
    • Feeling of fullness after eating only a small amount
    • Awakening at night, not able to breath
    • Shortness of breath with less activity
    • Having a cough that worsens when laying down
    • Urinating more at night
    • Sleeping with more pillows or in a chair
    • Being confused or mixed up
  • Limiting sodium intake (2,000 milligrams or less a day)
  • Taking your medicine regularly
  • Exercising regularly
  • Have regular follow-up appointments with your health care provider

If you have questions or need to contact your provider, call 1-877-467-7484.

Pacing and defibrillation therapies

The majority of our patients require a less-invasive level of care to improve cardiac function. Patients of the Heart Failure Program have access to the following primary intervention methods:

Advanced therapies for those with end stage heart failure

For patients needing more advanced intervention, our team provides seamless care throughout the surgical process. The heart failure program has designed a care process that follows patients through pre-surgery appointments, recovery and long-term transitional care. 

Advanced procedures include:

  • Total artificial heart
  • Heart transplant surgery
  • Ventricular assist device (VAD)
    • A ventricular assist device (VAD) is a surgically implanted pump that helps a weak or failing heart pump blood throughout the body. These pumps can help the right (RVAD), left (LVAD), or both (BiVAD) sides of your heart. Mechanical support from an assist device is offered to patients for the goal of either bridge to heart transplantation (BTT) Bridge to transplant—patient is an approved heart transplant candidate, as determined by the cardiac transplantation and surgical teams, but is too sick to wait for a donor heart without assistance from a mechanical support device.], or destination therapy (DT) Destination therapy - patient is not a transplant candidate, as determined by the cardiac transplantation and surgical teams, but requires circulatory support for the management of their end-stage heart failure. 

Heart failure team

Heart failure support team includes

  • Advanced intervention care coordinators
  • Cardiology-specific pharmacist
  • Cardiology-assigned chaplain
  • Clinical research coordinators
  • Palliative care coordinator
  • Social worker
  • Transitional care coordinators