Kent Peterson, senior editor at UpWell, has also produced award-winning work in television and radio.

There’s a fix for a failing heart—replace it. But heart transplant surgery is a painful ordeal that comes with many risks. And you might have to wait months or even years for a donor heart.

Now there may be another option for some people.

Understanding heart failure

Congestive heart failure means that a weakened heart can no longer pump as much blood as the body needs. There’s no cure, but medicine and lifestyle changes often help relieve symptoms and prevent the problem from getting worse. If those measures don’t work, a heart transplant may be considered.

People who are waiting for a heart transplant are sometimes fitted with an implanted pump called a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD. It keeps them alive by helping the heart pump more blood with less effort. A recent study from Newcastle University suggests that an LVAD may do more than that.

What the research revealed

Nearly 40 percent of study participants who had severe heart failure and wore LVADs while taking heart medication found that their heart function was fully restored. They didn’t need their LVADs or a heart transplant anymore.

Heart fitness was assessed in 58 men with heart failure who took part in the clinical trial. Of 34 who wore an LVAD, 16 were able to have it removed because their heart function improved so much. The length of time they wore an LVAD before removal varied from 22 days to 638 days.

In a press release, lead author Dr. Djordje Jakovljevic, senior research fellow in cardiovascular aging and heart failure at the Institute of Cellular Medicine at Newcastle University, said, “For the first time, what we have shown is that heart function is restored in some patients, to the extent that they are just like someone healthy who has never had heart disease.”

Though the results are encouraging, more research is needed. So far, there is no way to predict which heart failure patients will respond best to an LVAD and won’t have their heart failure return if the device is removed.
Recognizing heart failure

In the United States, about 5.7 million people have some degree of heart failure, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Heart failure strikes both children and adults and is a possible complication of diabetes. Common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Swelling in feet, legs, or abdomen
  • Frequent urination
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Weight gain
  • A cough that’s worse at night or when you lie down

If you notice any of these heart failure symptoms, discuss them with your doctor. There are other possible reasons for them, so don’t try to diagnose yourself.

Do you have heart failure? Have treatments helped? Share your experiences by commenting below.