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Dr. Kenneth Taylor

Heart failure 101: Treating and managing the number one killer of Americans

“Heart failure is a clinical syndrome,” says Kenneth Taylor, M.D., director of the Heart Failure Center of Excellence at Piedmont Heart. “Any time a patient’s heart can’t either fill with or eject blood, that often results in a patient holding onto too much fluid, developing symptoms like shortness of breath, swelling or something we call edema.”

Heart Failure Causes

“Heart failure is caused by a lot of different things,” explains Dr. Taylor. “It can be caused by the weakening of the heart muscle, longstanding high blood pressure, valve problems, blockages in the blood vessels of the heart, or heart attacks.”

Diagnosing Heart Failure

“A good clinical history and physical can oftentimes diagnose heart failure,” he says. “We have certain tests that help us with the underlying cause of the heart failure and help us quantitate the severity of the heart failure.” Imaging technology also plays a role in the diagnosis of this syndrome. “Our most common imaging technology for the diagnosis of heart failure is an echocardiogram,” says Dr. Taylor. “We can look at heart function, how strongly the heart squeezes, the valves, and we can estimate certain pressures in the heart. It is really the first step in evaluating a patient with heart failure.”

Treatment options

Medication is the first line of treatment when managing this condition. “The cornerstone of treating heart failure is medication,” he says. “There are very specific medications that have been shown to help people’s outcomes, including reducing their symptoms and improving their likelihood of living longer.” In patients who have heart failure because of a weakened heart muscle, or cardiomyopathy, Dr. Taylor recommends ACE inhibitors and beta blockers.

In addition to medication, there are several other treatment options. “We have developed devices called defibrillators, which are like pacemakers, but they have the ability to shock a patient out of a dangerous heart rhythm,” he says. “These devices have been shown to significantly impact and improve outcomes in certain patients.”

Piedmont specialists collaborate in the care of heart failure patients

“We have a long history of collaborative work between our electrophysiologists, who take care of pacemakers and defibrillators, and our heart failure specialists, like myself, who manage the patients with medications. That collaborative work has allowed us to develop a comprehensive program to provide help to our patients.”

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States today, so this information is more pertinent than ever. While there are numerous treatment options available if you have heart failure, the best steps you can take are preventative ones.

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