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An estimated 6.2 million American adults have been diagnosed with heart failure. That number is expected to increase with an aging population, the continued impact of Covid-19 on heart health, and increases in associated conditions such as obesity and diabetes that impact patients around the world.

For Tiara Johnson, the statistics are frighteningly real. At 25, she was diagnosed with postpartum cardiomyopathy, a pregnancy-induced form of heart failure. Facing deterioration while on a waiting list for a heart transplant, she received a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, an implanted heart pump that helps to circulate blood through the body.

The device helped her live at home until a successful heart transplant surgery in November 2021. She still needs to manage her heart health proactively, and is aided in that challenge by a sensor the size of a paperclip that was placed in her pulmonary artery during a minimally invasive procedure to monitor symptoms of congestion after her transplant. The sensor, known as CardioMEMS™ HF System, monitors for pressure changes and provides daily readings to her healthcare team, alerting them promptly and allowing them to consider whether therapy adjustments are needed. It’s one example of groundbreaking heart-health technologies with the potential to transform millions of lives.

A race against time

Heart failure is a complex, progressive syndrome that impairs the ability of the heart to circulate blood efficiently, resulting in symptoms such as fatigue, breathlessness and swollen ankles. Often in early stages of heart failure, symptoms are nonspecific or mild, and overlap with other chronic conditions, so diagnosis may be missed or delayed. But early diagnosis and treatment are critical to prevent suffering, improve a patient’s quality of life and avoid or delay the need for later-stage interventions.

Advances in technology are changing the way heart failure is managed today, taking the guesswork out of care with solutions that extend and improve quality of life. Patients and physicians now have previously unimaginable options to quickly respond to changes in the body before patients are so sick that they require hospitalization.

Yet, these miracles of science are only helpful if patients have access to them. Unfortunately, physicians aren’t always aware of the latest options for their patients. And many patients with heart failure go undiagnosed, simply adjusting the way they live their lives to accommodate the limitations they experience. Their condition goes untreated, and they slip through the cracks.

Putting patients first

To allow for earlier diagnosis and better management of heart failure, the healthcare community must focus on connecting patients to the specialized care and life-saving solutions they need. Breakthrough technologies like the CardioMEMS sensor helping Tiara Johnson, along with innovations in machine learning and artificial intelligence, new imaging tools, smartphone apps and digital connectivity are revolutionizing treatment and improving outcomes.

Patients want confidence in knowing their healthcare team is keeping a close eye on them, without being saddled by gadgets that constantly remind them of their diagnosis. At Abbott, that means approaching product development with an eye toward innovative, connected technology that fits into a person’s life, while providing healthcare professionals the tools, information and training they need to continue to provide the best possible care.

We actively work with clinicians, educating them about heart failure warning signs and how to appropriately identify candidates who are indicated for the latest treatments. We dialogue on a breadth of topics to meet clinicians’ needs across disciplines and career stages, from patient screening and assessment methods to hands-on surgical training and subsequent management relating to Abbott’s products.

Managing a progressive, potentially fatal condition like heart failure is best accomplished with the active participation of informed patients in partnership with their physicians. Remote monitoring sensors like Abbott’s CardioMEMS ™HF System reliably provide that connection, offering early warning of worsening conditions and allowing for needed changes in treatment. And, for patients who still need later-stage treatment options, as Tiara Johnson did, Abbott’s heart pump is keeping late-stage heart failure patients not only living longer but functioning in the community while awaiting a heart transplant.

Looking to the future

We are at the start of a new era in medical technology that can dramatically extend and improve the quality of life for patients battling heart failure.

We’ve come a long way in treating these patients, and there’s still more to be done, and quickly.  It is exciting to witness the advancements in health technology that are truly making a difference for people like Tiara to live healthier, fuller lives.

Dr. Robert Kormos is Divisional Vice President of Global Medical Affairs at Abbott’s heart failure business