Heart Failure and Palliative Care

Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart is unable to pump your blood properly. It can cause breathing problems and other symptoms, such as weakness and swollen feet and ankles.

Treating Heart Failure Symptoms—How Palliative Care Can Help

Palliative (pronounced “pal-lee-uh-tiv”) care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness like heart failure. The goal is to improve quality of life for both you and your family. You can have palliative care at any age and at any stage of your illness. You can also have it together with curative treatment.

Palliative care is provided by a team of palliative care doctors, nurses, social workers, and other specialists. They work together with your cardiologist (heart specialist) to give you an extra layer of support.

The team has a wide variety of approaches to treating heart failure symptoms. These may include medicines, but not always.

Palliative care teams are expertly trained to manage symptoms, side effects, and stresses. For example, they may perform highly-effective lymphatic drainage. This is a technique for reducing leg swelling and its associated pain.

They’ll educate you about how to stand, sit, and lie down to improve your breathing. They’ll also train you in the use of fans, relaxation methods, meditation, and breathing exercises to decrease any anxiety or panic that may accompany feelings of breathlessness.

Additional Benefits of Palliative Care for Heart Failure

Palliative care is also there to guide you and your loved ones through all the distress caused by heart failure. The team will help you navigate the complex health care system. They will keep you, your family and all of your doctors informed, up to date, and on the same page.

Palliative care specialists can help you plan in advance because heart failure episodes can become worse, sudden, and unpredictable. In fact, one of the most important things your palliative care team can do is help you fully discuss your health with your family and other caregivers.

The team will use its communication expertise to help you achieve your personal goals while living with the disease. They understand that every patient and every family is different. The team is there to help you and your family achieve the best possible quality of life as you live with heart failure.

Patient Perspectives: Mary’s Palliative Care Story

Hear from Mary Tibbats, a caregiver to her 88-year-old mother, Mary Nolan, who has diabetes. Her mother went into heart failure after a rehab visit at the hospital to improve her blood flow. Mary Tibbats shares how palliative care not only helped coordinate her mother’s care and improve her quality of life, but provided support to Mary as she dealt with caregiver burnout.

How to Get Palliative Care

If you or a loved one needs palliative care, ask your doctor for a referral.

Finding palliative care in your area is easy. Just go to our Palliative Care Provider Directory for a state-by-state list. To find out if palliative care is right for you, take our quiz.

Visit the American Heart Association for detailed patient and caregiver information on heart failure: heart.org/HEARTORG.

Visit the American Heart Association’s Support Network to connect with others who have experienced heart failure: supportnetwork.heart.org/heart.