What is heart failure?
Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs; in other words, when the heart cannot keep up with its workload. It can happen because the heart cannot fill with enough blood or because it does not have enough force to pump blood correctly. Heart failure can affect either side of the heart, but in most cases, it involves both sides. When the right side of the heart is affected, the heart is unable to pump blood toward the lungs to pick up oxygen, and when the left side is affected, the heart cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
Heart failure is a very common condition that touches about 37 million people worldwide, including 5.7 million people in the United States. It is caused by damage to or overwork of the heart muscle and particularly concerns people over 65 years of age. Several conditions can facilitate the development of heart failure. These include: ischemic heart disease, where plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries (which supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart) reducing blood flow to the heart; high blood pressure, which weakens the heart; diabetes, where high blood sugar levels damage and weaken the heart muscle; and other heart conditions, such as arrhythmia or cardiomyopathy.
What are the symptoms of heart failure?
The most common signs of heart failure are shortness of breath and fatigue. Swelling may also occur because of the heart’s inability to pump blood correctly, leading to fluid buildup in the lower parts of the body, mainly the ankles, feet, legs and abdomen. These symptoms get worse as the heart grows weaker, and some people feel shortness of breath even while lying flat.
Are there any treatments for heart failure?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for heart failure yet, but the symptoms can be treated and the progression of heart failure can be slowed down. Treatment usually involves lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet and physical activity, as well as prescription medicine, such as beta blockers (which slow heart rate and lower blood pressure) and diuretics (that help reduce fluid buildup). If these treatments are not able to control the symptoms, the patient may need a medical device, such as a pacemaker or a mechanical heart pump, or even a heart transplant. About half of the patients diagnosed with heart failure die within five years of diagnosis.
However, recent research has paved the way to non-invasive and effective heart failure treatment by using umbilical cord-derived stem cells. In this study, published in the scientific journal Circulation Research, 30 patients with stable heart failure received intravenous infusions of umbilical cord-derived stem cells obtained from full-term human placentas from healthy donors, or a placebo treatment. Patients treated with the stem cells showed sustained and significant improvement in the heart’s ability to pump blood, resulting in improved quality of life, with no adverse side effects. This research shows that stem cells from the umbilical cord could be a promising future alternative for heart failure.
Kępińska K, Adamczak DM, Kałużna-Oleksy M. Advanced heart failure: A review. Adv Clin Exp Med, 2019;28(8).
Jorge G Bartolucci, Fernando J Verdugo, Paz L González et al. Safety and Efficacy of the Intravenous Infusion of Umbilical Cord Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Patients With Heart Failure: A Phase 1/2 Randomized Controlled Trial (RIMECARD Trial). Circulation Research, 2017;121:1192–1204.