Because heart failure can affect so many parts of your body, treating it is a team effort. To get the best care, you'll need to work with a group of doctors and other specialists. Together, they’ll help you manage your condition and live the best life possible. Here’s who’ll likely be on your team.
Primary care doctor
This is the doctor you see every year for a physical exam and who helps you stay healthy overall. They may h
ave been the one who first spotted symptoms and diagnosed you with heart failure. Even if you also see a cardiologist, your primary care doctor is the main point person. Ideally, they'll communicate with other team members to help make sure you're properly managing your condition and any others you might have. Your primary care doctor can also answer questions about healthy lifestyle habits like diet and exercise.
This doctor specializes in diagnosing and treating heart conditions. They use blood and imaging tests, electrocardiograms (EKGs), and other methods to figure out what’s going on. They also prescribe medications and other treatments to keep your heart working and help you avoid hospitalization.
A few sub-specialties fall under the cardiology umbrella. They include but aren’t limited to:
Interventional cardiologist. This doctor treats heart disease with nonsurgical procedures. They specialize in cardiac catheterization. That’s when a thin tube is threaded up to the heart (through a blood vessel) to diagnose or treat certain heart conditions.
Electrophysiologist. Along with other procedures, they implant devices like pacemakers and cardioverter-defibrillators to treat a fast or irregular heart rhythm.
Cardiac imaging specialist. This doctor does imaging tests like computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and echocardiography (echo) to look inside your heart and see how well it's working.
Heart failure specialist. This type of cardiologist specifically focuses on treating heart failure.
Congenital cardiologist. This doctor manages heart conditions you've had since birth.
Cardiac surgeon. You’ll likely see them if you have severe heart failure that other treatments haven't helped. They do heart surgeries or full transplants when necessary.
These nurses work under cardiologists and provide the specialized care people with heart conditions need. They might also support surgeons during heart surgery.
Strengthening your heart may ease heart failure symptoms and improve your quality of life. These specialists teach aerobic and strength training exercises tailored to your needs and abilities. Physical therapists often work in cardiac rehabilitation programs along with dietitians and other specialists.
Heart failure can make even the simplest daily activities more challenging. Occupational therapists offer strategies to make life easier. They can teach you ways to:
- Pace yourself and conserve energy
- Manage your time more efficiently
- Streamline work and other tasks
- Relieve stress
Some occupational therapists work in hospitals or clinics. Others are members of a cardiac rehab program.
Dietitian or Nutritionist
Medicine and surgery aren't the only treatments for heart failure. Eating the right foods matter, too. Watching how much salt you eat and reaching a healthy weight lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and that's good for your heart. A nutritionist or dietitian can help you plan heart-healthy meals that fit your tastes and medical goals.
Mental Health Professionals
Stress, anxiety, and depression often go hand in hand with heart disease. And when you're feeling this way, it's hard to stay committed to your treatment plan. Psychologists, therapists, and other mental health professionals can help you deal with the emotional side of living with heart failure.
Heart failure can be challenging and expensive to manage. A social worker can direct you to helpful resources for things like transportation to and from doctor’s appointments and paying for prescriptions. Some social workers also double as mental health professionals. They can help with mental and emotional issues related to your condition or refer you to another mental health specialist.
You may take several drugs to improve blood flow, lower high blood pressure, and treat symptoms of heart failure. When you have questions about your medication, your pharmacist is the person to ask. They help you manage all your medications and make sure none of the drugs you take interact with each other.
Friends and Family
Medical professionals aren't the only members of your heart failure team. You also need a strong support system at home. Friends and family can help by encouraging you to eat healthy and exercise, taking you to doctor’s appointments, or running errands for you. Or they can just be a shoulder to lean on if you’re sad or overwhelmed.
American Heart Association: "Cardiac Rehab for Heart Failure," "Your Heart Failure Health Care Team."
British Heart Foundation: "What does an occupational therapist do?"
Cardiac Failure Review: "The Key Roles for the Nurse in Acute Heart Failure Management," "What the General Practitioner Needs to Know About Their Chronic Heart Failure Patient."
Cleveland Clinic: "What Type of Cardiologist Should You See for Specialized Heart Care?"
Harvard Review of Psychiatry: "Depression and Anxiety in Heart Failure: A Review."
Heart: "Multidisciplinary team approach to heart failure."
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Heart Failure."
Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Journal: "Physical Therapist Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Individuals With Heart Failure."
The Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions: "Your Care Team If You Have Heart Failure."