Can Heart Failure Be Reversed? Insights From The CHF Dietitian

While there is no cure for heart failure, some cases have been reversed with careful adherence to medication regimens and adopting a healthy lifestyle. Still, many more people slow the progression of their disease or improve heart function with consistent treatment. 

Have you been diagnosed with heart failure? Has the diagnosis left you confused and worried? Are you wondering how you got heart failure in the first place? There is no simple answer to this question because heart failure is a complex disease with many causes.

This article will help you better understand this disease, its causes, and its progression, as well as answer the very important question, “Can it be reversed? Let’s get started with a dive into the top ten causes of heart failure.

What are the Causes of Heart Failure?

There are several different types of heart failure.  Heart failure can be acute (come on quickly) or progress slowly over time. And, heart failure can be diagnosed at different stages. It may be easier to reverse at very early stages, but that doesn’t mean that people in later stages can’t see an improvement in heart function.

  1. Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Arterial wall damage from cholesterol and plaques leads to high blood pressure and eventual heart failure.

  1. Heart Attack (MI)

A “heart attack” can damage the heart, making it unable to pump efficiently.

  1. High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

High blood pressure means the heart has to work hard to pump blood. Over time, this damages the heart muscle.

  1. Obesity

Obesity can increase the workload on the heart, which increases the risk of heart failure. 

  1. Valve Damage or Faulty Valves

Congenital disease or infections can lead to valve damage and heart failure.  Rheumatic fever is just one disease known to damage the heart valves.

  1. Alcohol Abuse

Over time, severe alcohol abuse can lead to myocarditis and heart failure. Drug abuse can damage the heart as well.

  1. Viral or Bacterial Myocarditis

If the heart muscle becomes infected by either a virus or bacteria, it becomes inflamed and may be damaged, leading to heart failure. Some people experienced heart failure after a COVID-19 infection. 

  1. Infiltrative Cardiomyopathy

This term describes several diseases which cause abnormal substances to build up in the heart leading to heart failure.

  1. Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune disease can attack any body organ, including the heart.  Certain autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, HIV, and sarcoidosis, are often associated with heart failure.

  1. Other:

Many other diseases can cause heart failure, such as diabetes, sleep apnea, cancer treatment, thyroid disease, lung disease, or genetic disease.

For more information, see this article from the American Heart Association: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure/causes-and-risks-for-heart-failure/causes-of-heart-failure

It makes sense that there is no easy answer to the question of heart failure reversal or remission. However, there are many things you can do, so let’s get started.

How Can Heart Failure Be Reversed or go into Remission?

While you can’t be sure if you can reverse your heart failure, giving yourself the best chance you can makes all the sense in the world.  Think about it!

  • You may be able to slow or stop the progression of your disease.  
  • Your heart function and ejection fraction may improve.
  • You will feel better.
  • Your exercise endurance may improve.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices will decrease your risk of all diseases.

Lifestyle Changes

Sadly, almost every single article I pulled up when researching this article listed lifestyle changes last, as if they were an afterthought.  I think lifestyle change needs to be first

It is essential to make healthy lifestyle changes as soon as possible so you can have more time actually enjoying life!

Diet and Nutrition

Get the unhealthy stuff out of your diet. Just do it!  It’s hard to change, but your life may depend on it.

  • Decrease processed foods, high-fat dairy, and animal foods.
  • Get rid of high-fat, high-salt processed foods like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and ham.
  • Decrease your salt intake.
  • Increase your intake of all plant foods.  Eat a variety. Eat lots of fiber. Eat lots of colors! And just in case you need a reminder:

More Vegetables

More Beans, Peas, and Legumes

More Fruit

More Whole grains

More Nuts, Seeds

Replace the unhealthy foods with heart healthy foods.  Each step you take toward a more whole food plant based diet will be a step toward improving your health.

Take a look at the plant based plate and Canadian food plate. Both emphasize a large variety of healthy, unprocessed plant foods:

Plant Based Food Plate
Canadian Food Plate

For more nutrition information, check out my blog articles: Six Tips for Heart Failure Nutrition—Getting Started and The Best Diet for Heart Failure Patients 

Exercise

Cardiac rehab is a great way to help your heart and learn what exercises are right for you. If you aren’t able to attend a formal program, see your doctor about starting an exercise program. 

Your heart is a muscle, and exercise can strengthen it and improve your endurance! 

Remember that simple movements or activities such as light housework or a brief walk count! You can even exercise while seated, if walking is difficult. And weather permitting, get outside and enjoy the fresh air.

Stay tuned for a future blog article all about exercise!

Sleep

Sleep is restorative, and good sleep is needed for health and healing.

  • Set your sleep area up to be comfortable and dark. 
  • Be sure the temperature is not too hot.  A slightly cooler room is better for sleep. 
  • Avoid television, computers, or phones while in bed.  
  • Go to bed at a reasonable hour and avoid caffeine in the afternoon hours.
  • If you are having trouble sleeping, see your doctor to see what treatments are available.

And adequate sleep can help brain function, help control weight, help fight illness, and decrease risk of heart disease.  So, if you already have heart disease, getting good sleep is super important. 

Stress Reduction

Stress can negatively affect heart function and overall health. 

Work on decreasing stress in your life!

That may mean changing jobs, getting help with errands, or seeking help around the house from family or friends. Don’t be shy about resting and taking quiet time each day.

Other ways to reduce stress are to do an activity that you love:

  • Take a bath
  • Sit on the porch
  • Listen to music
  • Read an uplifting book
  • Work on a hobby like gardening or woodworking

Medications

Medications are super important.  By emphasizing lifestyle changes, I am in no way minimizing the importance of taking your medications exactly as prescribed.  

Here is a summary of commonly used medications in the treatment of heart failure.

  • Beta Blockers–Cause the heart to beat more slowly, reducing blood pressure and decreasing the heart’s workload.
  • Ace Inhibitors–Relax the blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and increasing blood flow.
  • ARNI-A newer class of medications that helps open blood vessels and eliminate excess fluid and sodium.
  • SGLT2 Inhibitors–given initially to diabetics and now approved for heart failure, these medications decrease fluid, help balance sodium levels, and decrease blood pressure.
  • Loop diuretics–Gets rid of fluid by increasing urine output and decreasing blood pressure.

Surgery

  • Angioplasty–A small balloon on the tip of a catheter is inserted into your blood vessel to open blocked areas and increase blood flow. 
  • Valve Replacement–If heart valves are faulty or damaged, surgery can be used to replace them. The surgery often needs to be repeated.
  • Transplant–If your heart disease is severe, you may qualify for a transplant. Many factors are involved in this, and the risks are high, but the benefits can be significant.  This is best discussed with your medical team.

How Can You Prevent Heart Failure?

While genetics are a factor, and not all heart failure can be prevented. A healthy lifestyle dramatically lowers your risk.  My best advice is to control the things that you can!

Eat Well! (I don’t need to say any more about that.)

Keep your alcohol use in check.

Maintain a healthy weight–there is no perfect number, but eating well and exercising, will help you stay in a weight range that is healthy for you.

Don’t smoke.

If you have an autoimmune disease, a family history of heart failure, or other cardiac conditions, take your medications and closely follow your physician’s instructions.

Success Story

I saw this story on a Facebook post, and it made me smile from ear to ear. This amazing woman reversed her heart failure with diet and lifestyle changes.  She is in her eighties.  It is never, ever too late to get started! Check it out!!! https://www.womansworld.com/posts/heart-health/heart-failure

Outlook

Age of diagnosis, stage at the time of diagnosis, and underlying cause of heart failure are all factors in living with heart failure. Ongoing research will likely bring medication options and treatments to better treat and possibly reverse heart failure.  Researchers are looking at regenerating cardiac cells, which would be a huge breakthrough. 

I am a member of many heart failure groups, and it is not unusual to see people who have been living with heart failure for decades.

It is my hope that the articles in this blog help you manage your heart failure and live your best life!

My husband’s father lived many years with heart failure

I hope you enjoyed this article and I hope you take the time to check out my heart healthy recipes and nutrition information. Sign up for my email list too!

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