Skip to Main Content
Feature Article

Can You Reverse Heart Disease?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in every four deaths is a result of heart disease, and 47 percent of Americans have at least one of the top three risk factors for heart disease.

We know that heart disease can be prevented, but can it also be reversed?

“A heart disease diagnosis is not a death sentence,” said Cardiologist Greg Wood, MD, from Samaritan Cardiology in Corvallis. “Depending on the type of heart disease, some conditions – or at least symptoms – are reversible.”

Four Types of Heart Disease

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is a common condition where the blood vessels that supply the heart are narrowed or hardened.


  • Angina or chest pain that spreads across the chest.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea.
  • Sweating.
  • Fatigue.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Weakness or dizziness.
  • Heart attack.

Is it reversible? Not entirely.

“Once you develop coronary artery disease, the symptoms may be reversible with lifestyle changes, medications, or revascularization (stents or bypass); but the disease itself is difficult to reverse,” said Dr. Wood.

The progression of coronary artery disease can be slowed by making a few health improvements.

“It goes without saying. If you smoke, stop,” continued Dr. Wood. “Keeping your cholesterol in check by lifestyle changes and medications can slow progression of coronary plaques or blockages.  As can actively treating other diseases which impact coronary artery disease, such as diabetes.  Lifestyle modifications and treating known risk factors are important steps you can take to slow its progression.”

Heart Failure

Heart failure, a common and progressive form of heart disease, occurs when the heart muscle cannot pump enough blood to meet the blood and oxygen needs of the body.


  • Congested lungs.
  • Fluid and water retention.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Dizziness, tiredness, weakness, confusion, and fainting.
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat.
  • Weight gain.
  • Chest pain.

Is it reversible? Yes, in some cases.

“If reversible causes of heart failure, such as thyroid disease or rhythm disorders, are treated, then it is possible for the heart to return to normal function,” said Dr. Wood. “There are a handful of medications used in patients with heart failure, such as beta-blockers, which can help to improve heart function, reduce mortality, improve symptoms of heart failure and improve quality of life.”

Rhythm Disorders

There are several types of heart rhythm disorders including bradycardia, atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia that result in the feeling of a racing heart or the heart skipping a beat.


  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Dizziness.

Is it reversible? Yes.

“The good news is that while heart rhythm issues can impact quality of life, most are not life-threatening,” said Dr. Wood. “Depending on type of rhythm disorder, cardioversion or medications can reduce or alleviate symptoms.  In the past surgeries were used to treat some rhythm disorders, but many can now be cured with catheter-based ablation procedures in the electrophysiology lab.”

Structural Heart Disease 

Structural heart disease refers to abnormalities that have occurred in the heart’s structure, including the valves, walls, muscles or blood vessels.


  • Chest pain or tightening.
  • Fatigue.
  • Heart palpitations/irregular heartbeat.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Kidney dysfunction.

Is it reversible? Not entirely.

Treatment of structural heart disease depends on the symptoms and severity, and may include medications, such as blood thinners, valve repair or valve replacement.

“In the past, valve issues often meant open heart surgery,” said Dr. Wood. “Today, less invasive procedures like transcatheter aortic valve replacement can alleviate symptoms and improve overall quality of life.”

Lifestyle changes such as improved diet and exercise can help to reduce the symptoms of structural heart disease.

Know Your Risk

Understanding the risks for heart disease and making changes in your life to control those risks, are important steps to overall good heart health.

  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Smoking.
  • Diabetes.
  • Overweight and obesity.
  • Age.
  • Poor diet and lack of physical activity.
  • Excessive alcohol use.
  • Family history.

“The more risk factors you have, the greater chance you have of developing heart-related problems, said Dr. Wood. “While your family history and age may be out of your control, there are steps we can all take to stay out of the cardiologist office such as eating well, exercising regularly, not smoking and keeping cholesterol, stress and blood pressure low.”

Learn more about heart health and read experiences from our patients who have graciously shared their stories.