Surgery isn't frequently used to treat heart failure. However, it's recommended when the doctor can identify a correctable problem that's causing heart failure – such as a defect (such as a heart valve) or a blocked coronary artery. Surgery also may be needed when the heart failure is so severe that it can't be helped with medications or dietary and lifestyle changes. View an illustration of coronary arteries.
What surgical and other medical procedures might be used?
Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) (also referred to as angioplasty)
The procedure is usually performed in the cardiac catheterization lab. A small tube – a catheter – with a tiny deflated balloon on the end is inserted through an incision in the groin (or other artery) area and pushed through to the diseased artery. Then the balloon is inflated to push open the artery. The balloon is removed once the artery has been fully opened. A stent may be placed during the procedure to keep the blood vessel open. Although there's a slight risk of damage to the artery during this procedure, PCI usually improves the patient's condition.
Watch an animation of PCI.
Coronary artery bypass
After a bypass operation, it's especially important for you to watch your diet and reduce the amount of fat and cholesterol you eat, since these substances cause the arteries to clog. Doctors also recommend following a routine of increased physical activity to strengthen the heart muscles. View an illustration of coronary artery bypass.
Some people have severe, progressive heart failure that can't be helped by medications and dietary and lifestyle changes. In such cases a heart transplant may be the only effective treatment option.
Surgeons replace the damaged heart with a healthy one taken from a donor who has been declared brain dead. It can take several months to find a donor heart that closely matches the tissues of the person receiving the transplant. But this matching process increases the likelihood that the recipient's body will accept the heart. In some cases surgeons will implant a left ventricular assist device to help the heart function during this waiting period. This mechanical pump helps the left ventricle (lower left chamber) to pump.
During a transplant procedure, the surgeon connects the patient to a heart-lung machine, which takes over the functions of the heart and lungs. The surgeon then removes the diseased heart and replaces it with the donor heart. Finally, the major blood vessels are reconnected and the new heart is ready to work.
The outlook for people with heart transplants is good during the first few years after the transplant. In fact, about 90 percent of patients live for more than a year after their operations. However, the number of patients who receive heart transplants is still relatively low (around 2,500 each year). Read more about heart transplants.
This content was last reviewed on 04/06/2015.