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Published on February 27, 2017

You’re more likely to die of this than cancer

“We’ll surround you with support at the Heart Failure Clinic. It’s a comfortable place where you will find answers and a helping hand.”

Those are the comforting words of cardiologist Elissa Thompson, MD, medical director of Cape Cod Healthcare’s new Heart Failure Clinic at the Cardiovascular Center in Hyannis, MA. She and the team led by Shannon List, MSN, FNP, clinic manager, are bringing clarity and comfort to patients of this disease that kills more people than cancer each year.

Patients can be referred to the Heart Failure Clinic by their doctors while they are patients at Cape Cod or Falmouth Hospital. Or, physicians can refer patients for appointments—and they can be seen the same day or the next day at the Hyannis office.

Despite the large numbers of deaths caused by heart failure (614,348 annually compared to 591,699 for cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), not many people understand what it is or what to expect after their diagnosis.

Heart failure does not mean that the heart has stopped beating; it means the heart muscle is not functioning as well as it should, according to Dr. Thompson.

“Heart failure is serious,” she said. “According to statistics, half of those diagnosed with heart failure die within five years of their diagnosis.”

What to Look For

There is no diagnostic test for heart failure. As a result, it is largely a clinical diagnosis based upon a careful history, physical examination and tests.

Most often, heart failure is caused by diseases that damage the heart such as coronary artery disease, a prior heart attack, hypertension and diabetes.

Symptoms of heart failure may include:

  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath
  • Fatigue and weakness from very little effort
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles, feet, or abdomen
  • Rapid weight gain from fluid retention (3 to 4 pounds in 2 days, or 2 pounds overnight)
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Difficulty concentrating or decreased alertness
  • Chest pain if your heart failure is caused by a heart attack

The Heart Failure Clinic is designed to help people stay as healthy as possible so they do not end up in the hospital.

“We have developed a multi-disciplinary team to tackle our heart failure epidemic here on Cape Cod,” Dr. Thompson said.

In addition to List, a nurse practitioner, the Heart Failure Clinic team includes a pharmacologist, advanced care planning/integration of care specialist, nutritionist, social worker, case manager and visiting nurse. Their goal is to help patients stay healthy longer while providing one comfortable home base where people learn how to manage their illness.

“Together, our team will modify patients’ risk factors, help keep them out of the hospital, and change the course of the disease as much as we possibly can,” Dr. Thompson said.

Education Is Key

Education, nutrition, exercise and lifestyle changes can be pivotal, she said.

“We care about every aspect of the patient’s life. For instance, we ask if they have transportation. Can they get to the grocery store? Are they eating right? Are they missing any appointments? Could counseling help the patient and family manage the added stress of this diagnosis?

“You can count on us to make sure you are taking your medicine the right way and that it is having the best results. We will help you address any concerns you have about safety in the home, potential cognitive impairment, skin and wound care, medical conditions such as diabetes—whatever challenges and changes you are now facing.

“At the Heart Failure Clinic, we will surround you with care, hold your hand and provide a strong safety net. Most importantly, we will listen to you.”