Nurse listens to patient's heart.

Can Heart Failure Be Reversed?

AUGUST 09, 2023


Heart failure is a chronic condition that typically worsens over time. By managing the condition through medication and lifestyle changes, progression can often be slowed. In certain cases of heart failure, the condition can even be reversed. Whether or not reversal is possible depends on the underlying causes and the stage at which it was diagnosed.

This post will dig deeper into the question of when heart failure is reversible, offer steps you can take in partnership with your health care team to reverse heart failure and provide insights on managing the condition effectively. 

Understanding Heart Failure 

To effectively manage heart failure, it’s important to understand what it is and how it affects the body. Simply put, heart failure is when the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. This can be due to the heart’s inability to pump (contract) correctly or the heart’s muscles becoming stiff. 

Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition that typically persists over a long period and worsens over time if not properly managed. It’s also a common condition, with about 6.2 million U.S. adults reporting some form of heart failure. 

Symptoms of Heart Failure
While symptoms vary, heart failure patients commonly report shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness, swelling in the legs, ankles, feet or stomach, and rapid or irregular heartbeat. You might also experience persistent coughing or wheezing and a lack of appetite or nausea. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms, it is essential to see your health care provider right away.

When Is Heart Failure Reversible? 

While heart failure sounds final, it doesn’t mean the heart has failed and cannot function. Heart failure indicates reduced heart functioning and is measured by calculating your ejection fraction (EF), or how much blood is squeezed out during each heartbeat. 
A reduced EF indicates heart failure. If you can return your EF number to the normal range, that is considered reversal. 

What Causes Heart Failure?
Some of the most common causes of heart failure include coronary artery disease and heart attack. These are known as ischemic causes — or when blood flow is restricted to the heart due to blockages in the coronary arteries. 

Nonischemic heart failure is caused by conditions that do not involve blockages. These include:

  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Valvular heart disease
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Certain types of medication, or overuse of alcohol or illicit substances
  • Other conditions, including diabetes, obesity, thyroid disease and conditions that cause inflammation in the heart muscle, like myocarditis 

Reversible Causes of Heart Failure
Some causes of heart failure are reversible. For instance, heart failure caused by alcohol abuse or long-term substance misuse can often improve significantly if the person stops using these substances. Similarly, heart failure due to high blood pressure can be improved significantly if the underlying condition is successfully treated. 

How to Reverse Heart Failure

One key to potentially reversing heart failure is catching it early. The sooner heart failure is diagnosed, and treatment started, the better the chances of slowing the effects of the disease or improving heart function. Adherence to treatment and lifestyle changes recommended by your health care provider can also go a long way toward managing and potentially reversing heart failure. 

The Heart Failure Society of America developed an acronym — FACES — to help patients identify early warning signs of HF that stands for: 

  • Fatigue
  • Activity limited
  • Chest congestion
  • Edema (swelling)
  • Shortness of breath 

Individually or even in combination, these symptoms don’t mean you have HF, but they should be a warning sign to schedule a visit with your health care provider right away. 

Managing Heart Failure 

Not all heart failure cases can be reversed. Sometimes underlying conditions cause too much scarring or damage to the heart to be able to restore function fully. Even in cases where heart failure is not reversible, plenty of strategies exist to manage the condition and slow its progression. These can dramatically improve your quality of life. 

Lifestyle Changes

  • Diet. You can help manage heart-failure symptoms by adopting a heart-healthy diet, which includes monitoring your sodium intake (working with your provider to ensure you’re not getting too much or too little). Your provider may also recommend limiting fluid intake.
  • Exercise. Fatigue, especially when exercising, is common among heart-failure patients, making it hard to get moving. But regular exercise is vital to living well with heart failure. Talk to your provider about activities that are safe and manageable.
  • Stress management. Chronic stress can exacerbate heart-failure symptoms. Find ways to manage your stress levels, such as yoga or meditation. Seek professional counseling for help coping with stress, anxiety and depression.  

Medical Treatment

  • Medications. Your health care provider may prescribe ACE inhibitors, ARBs, beta-blockers or diuretics, depending on the nature of your condition. Make sure to adhere to the prescribed dosage and schedule for each medication. 
  • Surgical interventions. Sometimes, your provider may recommend surgery or an implantable device like a defibrillator or pacemaker. Some severe cases may require a heart transplant. 

Regular Checkups and Monitoring
Go to all scheduled appointments and monitor the progression of your heart failure at home. An app like Cormeum can help you keep track of your symptoms, medication schedule, diet and fluid intake. You can easily share these important metricswith your provider to develop the best treatment plan. 

Living Well with Heart Failure

Whether or not your heart failure is considered reversible, it’s important to stay vigilant and manage your condition by adhering to prescribed medication, following recommended lifestyle changes and attending your follow-up appointments. Understanding your condition and taking appropriate steps to manage it will go a long way toward helping you live well with heart failure.