Congestive Heart Failure (cont.)

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Heart transplant

In some cases, despite the use of optimal therapies as described above, the patient's condition continues to deteriorate due to progressive heart failure. In selected patients, heart transplantation is a viable treatment option. Candidates for heart transplantation are generally under age 70 and do not have severe or irreversible diseases affecting the other organs. Additionally, a transplant is done only when it is clear that the patient's prognosis is poor with continued medical treatment of the heart condition. Transplant patients require close medical follow-up while taking the necessary drugs that suppress the immune system, and because of the risk of rejection of the transplanted heart. They also must be monitored for possible development of coronary artery disease in the transplanted heart.

Although there are thousands of patients on waiting lists for a heart transplant at any given time, the number of operations performed each year is limited by the number of available donor organs. For these reasons, heart transplantation is a realistic option in only a small subset of the large numbers of patients with congestive heart failure.

Other mechanical therapies

Given the limitations associated with heart transplantation, much attention has recently been directed towards the development of mechanical assist devices that are designed to assume part or all of the pumping function of the heart. There are several devices available for clinical use and many more are actively being developed. For instance, there are currently left ventricular assist devices that are approved for use as a temporary mode of circulatory support in very ill patients until a transplant can be performed. Studies examining the possible role of these mechanical assist devices on a long term basis as permanent self-contained implants are ongoing. They may often be used for longer periods of time in older patients who may not be heart transplant candidates. The current major limitation of these devices is the risk of infection, especially at the site where the device exits the body through the skin to communicate with its external power source.

A less invasive modality, which can be placed without surgery, is the biventricular pacemaker. This device has proved valuable in appropriate types of patients with heart failure and impaired ventricles by improving the synchrony of contraction.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/8/2013

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