Heart Failure Classification Systems

Heart Failure Classification Systems

Once a patient is diagnosed with heart failure, doctors have to classify the patient’s degree of heart failure. However, heart failure classification can sometimes be challenging as the way the condition affects a patient differs from person to person due to risk factors and other underlying health conditions that contribute to or complicate heart failure.

Luckily, the heart failure classification system helps healthcare professionals determine the patient’s degree of heart failure and develop individualized treatment plans. That said, let’s have a closer look at the most commonly used heart failure classification systems:

  • New York Heart Association Functional Classification
  • American College of Cardiology/ American Heart Association Classification

New York Heart Association Functional Classification

This specific system focuses on using a doctor’s objective assessment of how the condition affects the patient’s day-to-day activities to categorize the degree of heart failure. Here are the four classes:

  • Class I – The patient doesn’t report any objective evidence of cardiovascular disease and doesn’t experience any symptoms or limitations with daily physical activity.
  • Class II – There’s slight objective evidence of cardiovascular disease, and the patient feels comfortable at rest but experiences mild symptoms with moderate physical activity.
  • Class III – Objective evidence of moderately severe cardiovascular disease is present and the patient is only comfortable at rest while experiencing heart failure symptoms even with less than normal physical activity.
  • Class IV – There’s objective evidence of severe cardiovascular disease and the patient experiences heart failure symptoms even at rest and faces severe limitations with physical activity as a result of the symptoms.

American College of Cardiology/ American Heart Association Classification

Contrary to the first one, this heart failure classification system focuses on the condition’s structural impact on the heart, like the measurement of ejection faction for example. Here are the four stages:

  • Stage A – The patient doesn’t have any structural heart disorder, but is at a higher risk of developing congestive heart failure because of a family history of heart failure or a personal history of coronary artery disease, diabetes, hypertension, viral infections, or alcohol or heart-toxic drug abuse.
  • Stage B – There is a structural disorder of the heart, but there aren’t any heart failure symptoms (pre-heart failure).
  • Stage C – The patient has a structural heart disorder and has currently or previously experienced heart failure symptoms.
  • Stage D – The patient doesn’t get any relief with treatment in this final stage of heart failure.

Heart Failure Treatments and Management

Although heart failure cannot be reversed, treatment can help keep the current stage of the condition or slow down the progression of heart failure. In general, heart failure treatments are based on the stage/class of the condition.

So, for patients with Class I or Stage A heart failure, a healthy diet and regular exercise can prevent heart failure. If the disease moves on to the next stage, medications or cardiac surgery might be needed. Then, for Class III or Stage C, doctors might recommend additional therapies, diet restrictions, or heart surgery. Finally, for the last stage, specialized treatments are required, like continuous infusions of medication through IV, heart surgery to implant a pumping device, or even a heart transplant.

Final Thoughts

If you have been diagnosed with heart failure or are at a higher risk for developing the condition, ensure you visit your doctor for regular check-ups so that you follow the degree of the heart failure and thus can get the right treatment. Remember, even if heart failure isn’t reversible, you can still slow down or prevent progression by following your doctor’s recommendations.