Healthcare provider discussing with patient whether heart failure can be reversed

Can Heart Failure Be Reversed?

Medically reviewed on Feb 17, 2024 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with heart failure, it’s normal to feel daunted or overwhelmed. But, depending on what type of heart failure it is, it may be possible to avert the most severe consequences of the condition.

In clinical terms, “heart failure” is a broad category that is divided into several stages, escalating in seriousness. For instance, if you’ve been diagnosed with stage A heart failure, it may still be possible to improve your heart function and cardiovascular health. Other types of heart failure may be subject to improvement with medication, surgery, and close monitoring of your heart health.

With this knowledge, you may wonder, can heart failure be reversed?

To know whether your heart failure diagnosis is reversible or subject to improvement, you’ll want to reach out to your healthcare provider. At a minimum, however, understanding the different types of heart failure and the factors impacting recovery can help you achieve the best quality of life possible. Let’s explore more below.

Understanding Heart Failure

“Heart failure” may refer to any occasion when your heart muscle has trouble doing its main job: circulating blood around your body. [1] So, its reversibility depends on the type of diagnosis you receive.

With that, let’s look at how healthcare providers define and diagnose heart failure.

Heart Anatomy

Your heart is made of several chambers; some may have more difficulty pumping blood than others. Heart failure may be described as [1]:

  • Left-sided heart failure, the most common type of heart failure. With left-sided heart failure, you may have buildup in the blood vessels that draw blood away from your lungs (the pulmonary veins). Left-sided heart failure symptoms may include shortness of breath or trouble breathing and coughing.
  • Right-sided heart failure, which is rarer, and usually occurs as the result of left-sided heart failure. This prevents blood from adequately circulating into your lungs, resulting in buildup and added pressure in your veins. Swelling and fluid retention are common right-sided heart failure symptoms.
  • Biventricular heart failure, which inhibits function in both the right and left sides of your heart.

Stages of Heart Failure

Most types of heart failure are progressive, meaning they can get worse over time if they aren’t properly diagnosed, managed, and treated. [1] For this reason, healthcare providers commonly define heart failure by its stage and associated symptoms. So, what are the 4 stages of congestive heart failure? They include [2, 3]:

  • Stage A Heart Failure (At-Risk) – It’s possible to receive a heart failure diagnosis even if your heart doesn’t yet have trouble pumping blood. If you have stage A heart failure, your heart is at risk of tiring out in the future. People with this diagnosis don’t experience any cardiovascular disease symptoms or show signs of heart damage. Rather, the diagnosis is intended as a prompt to make lifestyle changes that could help preserve heart health.
  • Stage B Heart Failure (Pre-Heart Failure) – Like stage A heart failure, pre-heart failure does not present with symptoms of heart damage. However, healthcare providers may have found signs of structural damage that could progress without proper treatment. At this stage, you may have already been diagnosed with another heart disease. Lifestyle factors like quitting smoking or losing weight may significantly improve your prognosis.
  • Stage C Heart Failure (Symptomatic Heart Failure) – At this stage, patients show signs and symptoms of heart health impairment. They may experience shortness of breath, problems with memory or concentration, and weakness or fatigue. It’s extremely important to adhere to your healthcare provider's recommendation for lifestyle changes or medication at this stage to promote the possibility of recovery.
  • Stage D Heart Failure (Advanced Heart Failure) – This is the most serious form of heart failure to have, impacting multiple areas of the body. [4] Stage D heart failure usually results in hospitalization, surgery or heart transplant, or death. About 89% of people with stage D heart failure lose their lives as a result. [4]

Heart Pumping Ability

Not all cases of heart failure inhibit a heart’s ability to pump blood. [1] Two types of diagnoses make this distinction [1]:

  • Heart failure with reduced pumping ability, where the heart has weakened, preventing the rest of your body and organs from receiving adequate oxygen. Healthcare providers may also call this systolic heart failure. [5]
  • Heart failure with preserved pumping ability, where the heart is physically able to eject enough blood, but has trouble relaxing between pumps. This prevents the heart ventricles from filling up with enough blood to circulate the rest of your body. Healthcare providers may also call this diastolic heart failure. [6]

Many medications used to treat heart failure target the heart’s pumping ability. [1] You may receive a diagnosis of systolic or diastolic heart failure before a healthcare provider recommends a medication to help support your heart. [1]

What Factors Impact Heart Failure Recovery?

It’s important to listen to your healthcare provider to understand the key factors of your condition and prognosis. The following variables are most consequential when it comes to determining your heart’s prospects for recovery.

Heart Failure Cause

People may develop heart failure due to acute reasons, as well as chronic health problems. It’s quite common for left-sided heart failure to be caused by several related cardiovascular conditions like [1]:

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common form of heart disease in the US. [7] This condition results in too much plaque in the arteries, which inhibits blood flow and puts pressure on the heart. CAD is often caused by a poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, excess weight, and/or smoking.
  • Hypertension, or high blood pressure, which makes your heart work very hard to circulate blood. While normal blood pressure hovers around 120/80 mmhG or below, people with hypertension have a top pressure of around 130 mmhG or higher. [8] Like CAD, hypertension is frequently caused by artery plaque buildup, as well as aging or low levels of physical activity. [9]
  • Cardiomyopathy, a condition impairing heart function that frequently leads to heart failure down the line. It may be inherited genetically, acquired from another pre-existing illness, or caused by lifestyle factors like substance abuse. [10]
  • Heart attack, a cardiac event, can result in acute heart failure (also called congestive heart failure) as a complication. [1, 11] A heart attack is most commonly caused by a blockage in blood flow, often by excessive amounts of cholesterol, fat, or other substances in the arteries. [11]

If you have any of these conditions, working with your healthcare provider to determine a suitable treatment for the underlying cause may significantly improve your heart health.

Many chronic health conditions impacting other systems of the body are associated with heart failure. Some prominent ones include:

  • Obesity – Being obese or overweight adds significant pressure to your cardiovascular system, augmenting your risk of heart failure. However, most people with a higher-than-average body mass index (BMI) with heart failure have preserved heart pumping ability, which may improve their outcomes if they adopt lifestyle changes [12]. Some research indicates patients who lose weight can lower their risk of heart failure by more than 50%. [12]
  • Diabetes – many people who receive ventricular assist devices (LVADs) for heart failure have been diagnosed with diabetes. [13] Uncontrolled diabetes can damage nerves and blood vessels, augmenting your risk of heart failure and other cardiovascular illnesses. [13] Patients who make diabetes management a priority early on may significantly reduce their risk of heart failure and other outcomes.

These are a few of the chronic health conditions associated with heart failure. If you’ve been diagnosed with another pre-existing illness, working with your healthcare provider to treat and manage it may significantly improve your cardiovascular and overall health.

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Lifestyle Improvements

Many cases of heart failure stem from the cumulative effect of poor lifestyle habits over time. Depending on how advanced your heart failure is, you may be able to restore some heart health by making changes like [14]:

  • Quitting smoking or not using tobacco
  • Eating a whole foods-based diet with minimal trans or saturated fats
  • Eating less salt (sodium)
  • Eating fewer refined carbohydrates
  • Reducing your alcohol intake
  • Starting an exercise program, ideally 30 to 60 minutes daily
  • Losing weight if you are obese or overweight
  • Reducing and managing your stress levels
  • Improving your sleep hygiene

If you’ve been diagnosed with at-risk or pre-heart failure, lifestyle amendments are one of the most effective ways to improve your physical health and quality of life. In addition to these lifestyle changes, understanding how to improve resting heart rate is crucial in managing heart health.

How is Heart Failure Treated?

Aside from adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, heart failure may be treated (under the advisory of your healthcare provider) with:

  • Medication – Beta-blockers and angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are considered some of the most effective medications for treating heart failure.
  • Surgery – Severe or advanced cases of heart failure may require surgical treatment. Types of surgery your healthcare provider may recommend include heart valve repair or a heart transplant.

Heart transplants are considered the last line of defense against heart failure. By adopting better lifestyle practices, taking your prescribed medications, and closely monitoring your heart health, you can lower your risk of needing invasive procedures and help your heart heal.

Monitor Your Heart Health With Everlywell

If you’re taking control of your cardiovascular well-being, monitoring your heart health with the Everlywell Heart Health Test can help. With this at-home test, you can measure your cholesterol, triglycerides, and other biomarkers to better understand your progress.

Every Everlywell test delivers CLIA-certified lab results reviewed by independent physicians. If your results indicate a need for more treatment, Everlywell can connect you with a qualified telehealth professional to counsel you on next steps during a virtual care visit.

Start your journey toward a healthy heart with Everlywell.

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  1. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). Types of heart failure. - NCBI Bookshelf. Published January 25, 2018. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 5, 2024.
  2. Restivo J. What are the stages of heart failure? Harvard Health. Published December 14, 2023. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 5, 2024.
  3. Universal Definition and Classification of Heart Failure: A Step in the Right Direction from Failure to Function - American College of Cardiology. American College of Cardiology. Published July 12, 2021. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 5, 2024.
  4. Severino P, Mather P, Pucci M, et al. Advanced Heart Failure and End-Stage Heart Failure: Does a difference exist. Diagnostics. 2019;9(4):170. doi:10.3390/diagnostics9040170. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 5, 2024.
  5. Systolic heart failure. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Published July 11, 2022. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 5, 2024.
  6. Professional CCM. Diastolic heart failure. Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed May 8, 2022. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 5, 2024.
  7. Coronary Artery Disease | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published July 19, 2021. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 5, 2024.
  8. High blood pressure (hypertension) - Symptoms & causes - Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. Published September 15, 2022. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 5, 2024.
  9. Professional CCM. High blood pressure (Hypertension). Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed May 1, 2023. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 5, 2024.
  10. Cardiomyopathy - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. Published April 2, 2022. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 5, 2024.
  11. Professional CCM. Heart attack (Myocardial infarction). Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed October 30, 2022. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 5, 2024.
  12. Obesity in Patients with Advanced Heart Failure and Left Ventricular Assist Devices - American College of Cardiology. American College of Cardiology. Published September 3, 2021. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 5, 2024.
  13. Triposkiadis F, Xanthopoulos Α, Bargiota Α, et al. Diabetes mellitus and heart failure. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2021;10(16):3682. doi:10.3390/jcm10163682. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 5, 2024.
  14. Strategies to prevent heart disease. Mayo Clinic. Published August 17, 2023. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 5, 2024.

Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT is most fulfilled when guiding others towards making stepwise, sustainable changes that add up to big results over time. Jordan works with a wide variety of individuals, ranging in age from children to the elderly, with an assortment of concerns and clinical conditions, and has written for publications such as Innerbody. She helps individuals optimize overall health and/or manage disease states using personalized medical nutrition therapy techniques.
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