Heart Disease and Heart Failure

Heart disease, sometimes called cardiovascular disease, refers to a range of conditions that affect how the heart functions. Different forms of cardiovascular disease might change how your heart’s valves regulate blood flow, how often and how strongly your heart muscle squeezes, how arteries supply blood to your heart or the rhythm of your heartbeat. Any disturbances to your heart’s rhythm, known as cardiac arrhythmias, are the most common type of cardiac arrest. If you or a loved one is facing a cardiac arrhythmia or any other symptoms of heart disease, Kindred Hospital can help you recover so that you can return home or continue on to your next level of care.

Types, Causes, and Signs of Heart Disease

The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease (or ischemic heart disease), which occurs when plaque builds up inside the artery walls, disrupting the supply of blood to the heart. When one of the arteries becomes completely blocked, part of the heart muscle will die and the result is a heart attack, or acute myocardial infarction.

Congenital heart disease is another common cardiovascular illness, characterized by a problem with the structure of the walls, valves and arteries of the heart, or veins near the heart.

Just like the conditions that affect how the heart functions, the causes of heart disease can vary. While congenital heart disease is present from birth, though it may not be noticed immediately. For later-developing forms of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are the three most common causes, but infections from bacteria, viruses or parasites can also lead to heart disease, as can other diseases, including connective tissue disorders.

Symptoms of some of the most common types of cardiovascular diseases — including hypertensive heart disease, congenital heart failure and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (thickening of the heart wall) — can vary in severity from patient to patient and may be different for men and women. An enlarged heart can be a symptom of congenital heart disease, or other heart conditions like ischemic heart disease and cardiomyopathy.

In the early stages of most cardiovascular diseases, people experience mild symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness, but symptoms of end-stage congestive heart failure include chronic coughing or wheezing, nausea, edema and confusion or impaired thinking. Anyone experiencing shortness of breath, chest discomfort, nausea, sudden light-headedness or dizziness should seek help immediately, as you might be experiencing heart attack symptoms. 

Depending on the level of severity, symptoms of some cardiovascular diseases, like hypertensive heart disease, can be effectively managed by medication and cardiac rehab.

Heart Disease Complications

Heart disease complications are very serious and can be life-threatening. Some of the most common complications are:

Congestive heart failure

This occurs when the heart cannot adequately pump blood throughout the body due to damage to the heart’s muscle. At first, the heart compensates for the damage by beating faster, building up more muscle, or stretching to accommodate more blood. However, congestive heart failure symptoms become worse over time, especially without treatment. There are four congestive heart failure stages, usually denoted with Roman numerals. In stage I, people do not yet have heart dysfunction, but are at a high risk of developing heart failure because of related conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes. Heart failure life expectancy decreases by five or more years as the disease progresses to each subsequent stage. Stage IV heart failure life expectancy is about a year, but it can vary from person to person. End-stage heart failure symptoms are severe and sometimes require advanced specialized treatment.

Heart attack

A major cardiac event that requires medical intervention and sometimes heart surgery, a heart attack occurs when the coronary arteries narrow so much that they cut off blood supply to the heart. This is often caused by cholesterol buildup, which can break off and block the blood vessel, depriving the heart cells of oxygen. Heart attack symptoms can be different for men and women. Heart attack symptoms in men include nausea, indigestion, heartburn, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, cold sweat, fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, and sensation of pressure, tightness, squeezing or aching in the chest and arm. This sensation may also spread to the neck, jaw or back. Heart attack symptoms in women are an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of the chest, pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach and shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.


Caused by a blocked artery or the bursting of a blood vessel in the brain, stroke symptoms include numbness on one side of the body, confusion, trouble speaking and loss of balance or coordination. Strokes are a medical emergency and require immediate care at an emergency facility.

Pulmonary embolism

When a blood clot blocks one of the pulmonary arteries, it prevents the blood from flowing between the heart and lungs. Symptoms of a pulmonary embolism include shortness of breath, chest pain and bluish skin.

Cardiac arrest

Often confused with a heart attack, cardiac arrest is actually a different type of serious cardiac event, in which the heart suddenly stops beating, usually because of an electrical disturbance or cardiac arrhythmia.

Peripheral artery disease

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is characterized by a narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the arms and legs. This can cause severe leg pain when walking.

Atrial fibrillation

Occurring when the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly, atrial fibrillation (AFib) causes a person to feel fluttering in their chest. A person in AFib is at increased risk of having a stroke or heart failure.

Heart disease medications and side effects sometimes require ongoing medical care to monitor and manage. However, it is possible to carry on with many normal activities during heart attack recovery, or while living with chronic cardiovascular conditions like hypertensive heart disease.

What Is the Best Path to Heart Disease Recovery?

After a cardiac event or heart disease diagnosis, you can still live an active, healthy lifestyle. You can also positively affect your heart failure life expectancy by making lifestyle changes, taking medication and, in some cases, having a medical procedure like open heart surgery, angioplasty or a heart transplant.

Because heart disease has varying levels of severity, transitional care is sometimes necessary to achieve a successful recovery. If you or a loved one is working toward heart attack recovery, or recovery from complications related to a procedure like a cardiac ablation or heart bypass surgery, you may require long-term care, cardiac rehabilitation and other advanced techniques designed to support successful outcomes.

Kindred Transitional Care Hospitals take a collaborative and integrated approach to cardiac care.

Our interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, therapists and specialists work together to offer heart attack treatment, create customized heart failure care plans, address new conditions and treat symptoms and complications of existing illnesses such as:

  • Wounds, infection or other complications from heart surgery
  • Congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy
  • Valvular heart disease
  • Post-myocardial infarction with complications
  • Peripheral vascular disease

If you or your loved one is suffering from advanced or end-stage congestive heart failure symptoms, you may be interested in participating in Kindred’s Ventricular Assist Device (VADs) program. These devices can support the heart and ease symptoms by pumping blood to other organs of the body. If, on the other hand, you’re seeking treatment for a cardiac arrhythmia, ischemic heart disease or another condition that necessitates monitoring the heart’s electrical activity, Kindred Hospitals offer advanced telemetry services to make sure your care team can spot any problems immediately. 

“There will never be a one-size-fits-all approach to treating heart disease. The conditions that lead to heart disease, and the complications they create, require a breadth of treatments and a care plan as unique as the person needing it,” says Dr. Dean French, Chief Medical Officer. “A patient experiencing complications from open heart surgery needs different care than one experiencing end-stage congestive heart failure symptoms. At Kindred, our patients receive acute care through treatment delivered according to their individual needs, coordinated through our interdisciplinary team.”

Success Spotlight: Hector's Story

Hector was out for a walk in the park with his wife when he suddenly went into cardiac arrest and collapsed to the ground.

Paramedics rushed to the scene and saved Hector’s life with emergency procedures and a breathing tube as they transported him to the ER. Physicians were able to stabilize his heartbeat and placed him on a ventilator to support his lungs. Suffering from an altered mental state and seizures as well as pneumonia, Hector’s recovery at first was very complicated, requiring diligent care, antibiotics and several types of medications for his heart and seizures. When he began to regain consciousness, Hector was transferred to Kindred Hospital for continued medical management, respiratory therapy and rehabilitation.

With his wife by his side every day, Hector began to make progress under the care of his team at Kindred. Aggressive ventilator weaning techniques helped Hector start to regain his lung strength, and he was able to wean successfully from the ventilator, requiring only supplemental oxygen to continue aiding his recovery. He attended cardiac rehab every day and worked hard with his physical and occupational therapists to regain his strength and mobility so that he was able to stand and begin walking again with assistance.

“We have been very happy here and are a little sad to be leaving,” Hector’s wife shared before he was discharged. “We’re happy to be close to going home — cardiac arrest is a serious and very scary thing — but we’ll miss our amazing team and will forever be grateful for all they did for us."