Approximately 5.7 million adults in the U.S. have been diagnosed with heart failure. Unfortunately, only half of those diagnosed with heart failure are still alive 5 years after their diagnosis (1).
Current therapies improve a patient’s quality of life but cannot cure the condition. Heart transplants are the only treatment that can significantly increase the life expectancy and quality of life, but there are many risks with a surgery of that magnitude and a severe shortage of available hearts. There is hope, though. Researchers have found that stem cell therapy is both safe and effective in treating heart failure.
The Basics of Heart Failure
The term “heart failure” sounds like your heart has stopped working, but it actually means that a heart does not pump blood as efficiently as it should. As a result, your heart does not move enough blood through your body to provide it with enough oxygen and nutrients. This will often cause blood and fluids to build up in your heart, lungs, extremities, kidneys, and abdomen. When fluid begins to build up, this is called congestive heart failure. The earlier congestive heart failure is treated, the easier it is to manage and slow its progression.
Fatigue, swelling in your ankles, feet, or legs, weight gain, edema, and increased urination are early symptoms of heart failure. As the condition worsens, normal physical activity may cause shortness of breath, fatigue, and heart palpitations. You may also notice a persistent cough or wheezing from congested lungs. Severe congestive heart failure may cause chest pain that radiates through your upper body, fainting, rapid breathing, and a blue tinge to your skin.
There can be many different causes and contributing factors to the development of heart failure. High blood pressure, coronary artery disease, genetics, a heart attack, thyroid disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and heart defects present at birth can increase your risk of heart failure. Even seemingly unrelated issues like allergic reactions and severe infections may play a role in the development of heart failure.
To make it even more complicated, there are also a few different types of heart failure. Since every person is different and heart disease can have many contributing factors, it may be difficult to find a treatment regimen that works to slow the progression and minimize symptoms.
Traditional therapies include medications and surgery. Commonly used medications are ACE inhibitors and vasodilators which open up blood vessels to improve blood flow, beta-blockers which reduce blood pressure and slow the heart rate, and diuretics which increase the flow of urine, reducing the amount of fluid in your body.
Surgeries may include coronary bypass surgery, a pacemaker, heart valve repair, a ventricular assist device, or a heart transplant. The problem with these treatments, other than a heart transplant, is that they are not actually repairing any damage. At best, they minimize symptoms and slow the progression. Scientists have been working for decades to find a treatment that will actually repair the damage and return your heart to health. Stem cell therapy has proven to be one of the most promising options.
If you would like an explanation of the science of stem cells, how donor stem cells work to heal, various types of stem cells, and the benefits of mesenchymal stem cells in particular, you can view this article. It may be helpful in understanding some of the concepts discussed in the next section.