Heart Failure | Heart and Vascular

Heart and Vascular Care

Heart Failure

Our specialists are known throughout Northern California for their expertise in treating all forms of heart failure.

Medically reviewed by Martin Cadeiras, M.D. on June 29, 2023.

Masked male physician looks at scans with an older female patient

Heart Failure

Specialists at UC Davis Health Heart and Vascular Center offer the highest level of care for heart failure. We will find the treatment that works best for you and helps improve your quality of life.


What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure (also known as congestive heart failure) is a condition where your heart doesn’t pump enough blood to your body. When this happens, you may find that everyday activities become difficult.

In some cases of heart failure, your heart is unable to fill up with enough blood. In others, your heart is not strong enough to pump properly.

There are several types of heart failure: 

  • Diastolic heart failure happens when your heart muscle becomes stiff, usually from heart disease. This makes it difficult for your heart to fill with blood.  
  • Left-sided heart failure occurs when the left lower chamber (ventricle) of your heart doesn’t pump properly. This is the most common type of heart failure. 
  • Right-sided heart failure affects the right ventricle of your heart. Left-sided heart failure can lead to right-sided heart failure by putting stress on the right side of your heart. 
  • Systolic heart failure happens when the heart weakens, and the heart muscle struggles to contract.

Heart failure does not mean that your heart has stopped. However, it is a serious condition that needs to be treated so it does not lead to complications like heart valve disease or arrhythmias


Symptoms of Heart Failure

Heart failure is a lifelong condition that gets worse over time. It is important to recognize the symptoms early and talk to your physician right away. The sooner you receive an accurate diagnosis, the sooner you can start treatments to protect your heart.

Common Symptoms

Let your physician know if you experience any of these heart failure symptoms:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Confusion or impaired thinking
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Loss of appetite or nausea
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath during normal activities
  • Swelling in your feet, ankles, legs or abdomen
  • Trouble sleeping

Emergency Symptoms

Call 911 immediately if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing when lying down
  • Increased dizziness, confusion or feelings of depression
  • Increased swelling in your feet, ankles, legs or abdomen
  • Shortness of breath while resting
  • Sudden weight gain of more than 2 or 3 pounds in 24 hours

Heart Failure Causes

Heart failure is commonly caused by medical conditions that affect the heart, including:

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

CAD is the most common cause of heart failure. It occurs when fatty deposits called plaque collect in the arteries that supply blood to your heart. This buildup narrows or blocks blood vessels, which restricts blood flow. This makes it harder for your heart to pump efficiently.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) forces the ventricles in your heart to work harder to pump blood. Over time, the ventricles stiffen and pump less efficiently, which can lead to heart failure.

Heart Attack

A heart attack can damage your heart muscle. Extensive damage makes it difficult for your heart to pump blood, leading to heart failure.


There are several different forms of cardiomyopathy, which affect your heart muscle and its ability to pump blood efficiently.

Cardiac Amyloidosis

In this condition, abnormal proteins (amyloids) build up on tissues and organs, including the heart. This affects your heart’s ability to function.

Cardiac Sarcoidosis

Cardiac sarcoidosis is a rare autoimmune disorder. It causes white blood cells to clump together in your heart. These clumps are called granulomas. They can make it difficult for your heart to pump blood and lead to heart failure.

Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension

Pulmonary arterial hypertension is high blood pressure in the arteries of your lungs. It is known to weaken the right side of the heart and can cause heart failure.

Heart Valve Disease

Heart valves ensure that blood flows in the correct direction through your heart and into your body. When valves are damaged or diseased, it impacts blood flow and makes your heart work harder. This can lead to heart failure.


Heart Failure Risk Factors


High blood sugar levels can damage to your blood vessels. Diabetes can also cause your heart muscle to become stiff. This makes it harder for your heart to pump blood and raises your risk of heart failure.


Obesity is linked to a higher risk of CAD and high blood pressure, which are common causes of heart failure.

Lifestyle Habits

Certain lifestyle choices can increase your risk for heart failure, including:

  • Diet high in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • History of smoking
  • Lack of regular exercise

Heart Failure Diagnosis

Your physician will ask about your medical history and do a physical exam. They may also recommend tests to diagnose heart failure and rule out other health conditions.

These tests may include:

  • Blood tests to measure levels of molecules like brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) that are higher during heart failure
  • Echocardiogram to see how your heart is functioning, using ultrasound
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) to show your heart’s electrical activity
  • Other imaging tests to see how well your heart is working, like a cardiac CT scan or cardiac nuclear stress test
  • Stress test to find out how your heart responds to physical activity

Treatments for Heart Failure

Our Comprehensive Heart Failure Program is known throughout Northern California and has been recognized as high performing by U.S. News & World Report.

Our heart failure specialists diagnose and treat all forms of congestive heart failure. We will work closely with you to develop a personalized treatment plan based on your unique needs.

Heart failure treatment options include:

Alcohol Septal Ablation

This nonsurgical procedure treats cardiomyopathy that is causing heart failure. Your physician uses injectable, purified alcohol to shrink enlarged heart tissue.

Alcohol septal ablation is less invasive than traditional treatment, which involves surgically removing thickened heart muscle. Our physicians are the only specialists in the Sacramento region that offer alcohol septal ablation to treat hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Cardiovascular Clinical Trials

Our heart failure specialists conduct clinical trials that research and test new procedures, devices and treatments. Clinical trials can give you an opportunity to try new therapies before they are widely available.

Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG)

CABG (heart bypass surgery) uses a healthy artery to reroute (bypass) a blocked artery and improve blood flow. It is a minimally invasive procedure that tends to lead to a faster recovery with less pain and scarring.

Our cardiothoracic surgery team specializes in using robotic-assisted, laparoscopic techniques to treat CAD. We are one of only a handful of hospitals in the nation that offer a robotic-assisted bypass with angioplasty.

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

ECMO is a short-term life support system. It does the work of your heart and lungs by circulating blood and oxygen through your body. It is used after surgery or when your heart and lungs need support while you regain strength.

Heart Transplantation

If heart failure is severe and life-threatening, your physician may recommend a heart transplant. You’ll typically be placed on a waiting list for a healthy heart from a donor. Our specialists will provide medical support while you wait for your procedure.

Heart Valve Repair and Replacement

Our specialists are nationally recognized for their expertise in treating heart valve disease using transcatheter techniques. Our procedures are done through an artery or vein instead of open surgery. With this approach, you have less pain and a faster recovery.

Impella Percutaneous Support Device

This small heart pump helps maintain blood flow during procedures that open blocked arteries.


Your provider may prescribe you medications to reduce heart failure symptoms. These drugs may lower your blood pressure or help your heart muscles pump easier. Other medications may protect you from heart failure complications like stroke or heart attack.

Ventricular Assist Devices (VADs)

A VAD is a mechanical heart pump. It is used to support your heart by pumping blood through your body. You may have a VAD temporarily while you wait for a heart transplant. Or, some people use a VAD long term, instead of having a heart transplant.

At our dedicated VAD program, our heart failure specialists offer the latest VADs and provide personalized care and support. 


Preventing Heart Failure

Healthy lifestyle habits can reduce your risk of heart failure as well as many other heart conditions.

These include:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Limiting your alcohol intake
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Managing health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure
  • Sticking to a healthy diet
  • Quitting smoking

How common is heart failure?

6MAmericans currently live with the condition

How often is heart failure diagnosed?

900KNew cases diagnosed each year

Source: American Heart Association: Causes and Risks for Heart Failure

Request an Appointment

As Sacramento's No. 1 hospital, you'll benefit from unique advantages in primary care and specialty care. This includes prevention, diagnosis and treatment options from experts in 150 specialties.

Referring Physicians

To refer a patient, you can submit an electronic referral form or call.



For questions and appointment information

Awards and Recognitions
USNWR Best Hospital badge

Ranked among the nation’s best hospitals

A U.S. News & World Report best hospital in cancer, cardiology, heart & vascular surgery, diabetes & endocrinology, ENT, geriatrics, neurology & neurosurgery, obstetrics & gynecology, and pulmonology & lung surgery.

Learn more
US News & World Report best Children’s Hospital badge

Ranked among the nation’s best children’s hospitals

A U.S. News & World Report best children’s hospital in diabetes & endocrinology, nephrology, and orthopedics*. (*Together with Shriners Children’s)

Learn more
USNWR best regional hospital badge

Ranked Sacramento’s #1 hospital

Ranked Sacramento’s #1 hospital by U.S. News, and high-performing in COPD, colon cancer surgery, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, hip fracture, hip replacement, kidney failure, leukemia, lymphoma & myeloma, lung cancer surgery, ovarian cancer surgery, pneumonia, prostate cancer surgery, stroke, TAVR, uterine cancer surgery, gastroenterology & GI surgery, and orthopedics.

Learn more
Magnet designation badge

The nation’s highest nursing honor

UC Davis Medical Center has received Magnet® recognition, the nation’s highest honor for nursing excellence.

Learn more
Chime acute badge

“Most Wired” for acute care

UC Davis Health has been recognized as a level 10 out of 10 in the Digital Health “Most Wired” program from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). The honor recognizes excellence in using technology to improve the delivery of care.

Learn more
Chime ambulatory badge

“Most Wired” for ambulatory care

UC Davis Health has been recognized as a level 10 out of 10 in the Digital Health “Most Wired” program from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME). The honor recognizes excellence in using technology to improve the delivery of care.

Learn more
NCI badge

World-class cancer care

One of ~56 U.S. cancer centers designated “comprehensive” by the National Cancer Institute.

Learn more

A leader in health care equality

For the 13th consecutive year, UC Davis Medical Center has been recognized as an LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Leader by the educational arm of America’s largest civil rights organization.

Learn more
See more