Heartfelt care at UCI facility

As manager of the cardiovascular program at the UC Irvine Medical Center, Nathalie De Michelis sees many patients who either have a propensity for heart failure or are well on their way and need help.

That's where the hospital in Orange and its cardiology staff come in. They offer advice, medication and tests to determine whether that shortness of breath, high blood pressure, slight fluid in the lungs and swollen feet are things to worry about.

Established three years ago, the medical center's Heart Failure Program has been treating about 70 regular patients every three months, half of whom are between the ages of 46 and 85, De Michelis said.

At times, hundreds more come each week seeking some form of help.

So far the diligence and attention to detail is paying off — so much so that the medical center received the Silver Plus award from the American Heart Assn. for meeting 96% of the association's guidelines for treating heart failure.

They include: checking the function of the heart's left ventricle and making sure patients receive proper medication, such as beta blockers; written instructions upon discharge and immediately scheduling appointments for follow-ups; getting vaccinated for pneumonia, if need be; and making sure blood clots are not forming in the legs and writing prescriptions for drugs to prevent such clots.

"Heart failure is a syndrome," De Michelis said in an interview. "It's a common problem in the United States."

The symptoms are vast, she said. They can range from shortness of breath, waking up in the middle of the night and gagging on fluid in the lungs, gaining three to five pounds in one week, and consistently recording high blood pressure.

Normal blood pressure varies, but the general litmus test is 120/80.

Other serious signs include not feeling comfortable while you're laying down and feeling like "you're drowning," De Michelis said.

All of this is part of the Heart Assn.'s Get with the Guidelines — Heart Failure. The goal is to make sure a high standard of care exists across the country for cardiac patients, according to a news release from UC Irvine.

"UC Irvine is dedicated to making our care for heart failure patients among the best in the country," Dr. Dawn Lombardo, director of the hospital's heart failure program, said in a prepared statement. "We will continue in our efforts and build off the success of this award by continued implementation of the American Heart Assn.'s Get with the Guidelines — Heart Failure program that allowed us to accomplish this goal."

According to the Heart Assn., about 5.7 million people in the U.S. suffer from heart failure. More than 292,200 die of it annually, according to the release.

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