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The High-Tech Heart: New Technology to Remove


Chronic heart failure (CHF) is one of the most common health problems in the United States. It’s a chronic condition that affects approximately 4.9 million people in this country. When you have heart failure, your heart can’t work hard enough to pump blood through your body. As the blood flow in your body slows down, you may experience swelling in the arms and legs, extreme tiredness and, sometimes, fluid buildup in the lungs.


When patients, along with their healthcare team, manage CHF well, hospital visits are decreased, stays in the hospital are shorter and patients feel better. Diuretic drugs have been the traditional treatment for fluid buildup in CHF patients. Unfortunately, continued use of diuretics may eventually lead to kidney damage for some patients. A new technology is now available that can help remove fluid faster and more effectively than diuretic treatment. It’s called ultrafiltration.


Patients who receive ultrafiltration have an IV line inserted under their collar bone. The IV line is connected to a machine that filters the blood to remove salt and water. It’s similar to kidney dialysis, but it’s much easier for patients.


Grace Zite, RN, Heart Failure Advocate at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, explains, “Ultrafiltration is a type of dialysis, but it only removes sodium and water from the blood. Traditional dialysis takes place three times a week for several hours, and it removes electrolytes from the blood as well as sodium and water.”


Ultrafiltration is a much less time-consuming for patients than traditional dialysis. CHF patients who receive ultrafiltration need to spend 24 to 48 hours in the hospital, says Zite. “But they often won’t need another ultrafiltration treatment for at least 30 days.”


Fluid build-up is difficult for patients to tolerate, but as soon as the ultrafiltration begins, most patients start to feel relief.  “Their breathing becomes easier soon after treatment starts,” says Zite. “The treatment usually removes about 200 to 250 ccs of fluid per hour.”


Ultrafiltration isn’t painful, says Zite. “Patients can get up and move around during treatment if they want to,” she says.


Zite says that patients who get ultrafiltration treatment are able to be more active and often, they’re able to go to cardiac rehab when they may not have had the energy to do so before. Additionally, research has shown that ultrafiltration reduces the amount of time CHF patients need to spend in the hospital.


Patients still play an important role in their own care


Even if patients receive ultrafiltration treatment, they still need to take an active role in caring for themselves. That means, says Zite, “Watching their sodium intake, weighing themselves daily, staying active at home, and limiting fluid to no more than 2 liters per day, unless their doctors recommend otherwise.”


Grace Zite has been working with heart failure patients for two years. She finds it rewarding, she says, to get to know patients and to teach them how to take care of themselves. “I like the education piece of this,” she says. “I like calling patients, and I like knowing what I’m doing is making a difference.”


For information about heart failure and the aggressive steps CHP has taken to improve treatment for CHF patients, read, “Changing Lifestyles, Changing Habits: A New Program’s Focus on Managing Chronic Heart Failure.”

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