Low Ejection Fraction (Heart Function)

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

What is ejection fraction? Ejection fraction, or EF, is a measurement that describes how well your heart functions. It refers to the percentage of blood that leaves your heart with each contraction. This measurement helps determine how effectively your heart pumps with every heartbeat. No matter how forceful the contraction, even a healthy heart only pumps out 55 to 70 percent of the chamber’s blood volume. 

When your heart contracts, the heart’s two lower chambers, or ventricles, pump blood out of the heart. The left ventricle pumps blood to your entire body; the right one pumps blood to the lungs.

Left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) refers to the amount of blood that is pumped out of the left ventricle each time the heart contracts (beats). If the left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) is 60, that means 60 percent of the total amount of blood is pumped out with each heartbeat.

An ejection fraction less than 55 percent is considered below normal. If the ejection fraction is below 35 percent, the patient may be at risk for life-threatening arrhythmias or sudden cardiac death.

Low Ejection Fraction Symptoms 

There are two types of heart failure:

  • Diastolic heart failure, also known as heart failure with normal ejection fraction (HF-NEF), occurs when the heart muscle becomes stiff and inflexible. With this type of heart failure, the heart has difficulty with the relaxation portion of the heartbeat cycle and often leaves the ejection fraction unchanged.
  • Systolic heart failure occurs when the heart muscle weakens and the heart doesn’t contract effectively. It occurs when LVEF is less than 40 percent.

Symptoms of low ejection fraction may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of fullness or bloating in the stomach
  • Heart palpitations
  • Loss of appetite or nausea
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling

Low Ejection Fraction Causes

Causes of low ejection fraction often include:

Diagnosing Low Ejection Fraction

Doctors can use any of the following tests to diagnose low ejection fraction:

Treating Low Ejection Fraction

For people with low ejection fraction, doctors usually start treatment by recommending lifestyle changes and prescribing medications. Lifestyle recommendations may include:

  • Discontinuing alcohol or illegal drug use
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Monitoring weight daily
  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing salt intake
  • Restricting fluids

Medications may include:

  • Aldosterone antagonists
  • Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE-I) or agiotensin II receptor blockers (ARB)
  • Beta blockers
  • Diuretics

In some cases, doctors may treat low ejection fraction with a biventricular pacemaker or an implantable cardiac defibrillator. In some cases, a heart transplant may also be an option.

A Leader in Treating Low Ejection Fraction

Aurora’s Heart Failure Program provides the whole spectrum of services for patients and their families. Our dedicated heart failure team provides patients with a continuity of care. Many Aurora patients have the same nurse coordinator and physician throughout their lifetime.

Our team includes many other dedicated professionals, including:

  • Cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation therapists
  • Financial counselors
  • Heart failure pharmacists
  • Home care nurses and therapists
  • Social workers

These professionals work in the Tendick Heart Failure Center(link tbd), located at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We manage and coordinate many outpatient services at this location, which makes it easier for patients to see a variety of heart failure professionals at one location, during one visit. If patients require hospitalization, this same team also oversees their inpatient care, which makes for a seamless transition.

The Tendick Heart Failure Center also houses the Aurora Health Care Mechanical Circulatory Support Program (VAD Program), which is the largest in the nation. Our survival rate exceeds 90 percent. In 2010, we implanted more than 95 ventricular assist devices and expect to implant our 500th this year.

Aurora doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.