Congestive Heart Failure

Information on the symptoms of congestive heart failure.

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  1. What is Congestive Heart Failure?
  2. Diagnosing Congestive Heart Failure
  3. What Causes Congestive Heart Failure?
  4. Help for Congestive Heart Failure
  5. More Information on Congestive Heart Failure

A man with his hand over his heart and a painful facial expression.

What is Congestive Heart Failure?

Heart failure describes the condition where the heart is not pumping at full efficiency and cannot keep up with the blood flow demand from the body’s organs.

When the heart no longer pumps as it should, the organs in the body become deprived of oxygen and nutrients, and symptoms soon arise.

Diagnosing Congestive Heart Failure

If you have been experiencing any of the symptoms listed below, it is essential to seek a medical evaluation. Physicians will obtain a detailed medical history, perform a physical examination to check for signs of lung congestion or abnormal heart rhythms, and check for risk factors including high blood pressure.

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure

While symptoms may not always be present, they tend to become most noticeable during physical exertion as people often describe difficulty exercising, and feelings of fatigue and dizziness. As the heart struggles to pump sufficient blood to the body, and blood pressure drops, the body tries to compensate by triggering hormone and nerve signals to increase the blood volume through water retention.

It may also start beating faster while the heart muscles thicken and the ventricles stretch to accommodate more blood. But the heart still isn’t beating effectively enough to push this now increased volume of blood through the system and so fluid begins to build up in the body resulting in excess fluid entering the lungs and other body tissues.

Symptoms soon become evident as the heart continues to struggle, the organs continue being deprived of blood and the excess water builds up in the system.

In addition to those already mentioned, other symptoms of congestive heart failure often include:

  • Edema – often noticed as swelling of the ankles, legs and abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing sounds as a result of water build up in lungs
  • Persistent cough with white, frothy or blood-tinged phlegm
  • Sudden weight gain (caused by fluid retention)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mild confusion or decreased alertness
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat

If heart failure is suspected, further evaluations such as blood tests, chest x-rays and an echocardiogram will be necessary.

What Causes Congestive Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a progressive disorder that can either be acute or chronic, occurring fairly gradually and worsening over time, or coming on suddenly without warning.

Either way, congestive heart failure is usually the result of an underlying condition or previous damage caused to heart tissue such as:

  • Damage caused by previous heart attacks or surgery
  • Prolonged high blood pressure
  • Arrhythmias
  • Faulty heart valves
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Some infections of the heart
Other Risk Factors for Congestive Heart Failure

There are also a number of risk factors that greatly increase your chances of developing heart failure, including:

  • Age
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Stress
  • Obesity

Help for Congestive Heart Failure

Although heart failure is often a life-long disease that needs to be carefully managed, most people with mild to moderate congestive heart failure can be treated with proper medical intervention.

In cases where underlying conditions have caused heart failure, once the original condition is treated, heart failure often corrects itself (provided that permanent damage to heart tissue has not occurred). With the correct treatment and proper care, the failing heart can become stronger and symptoms can be improved.

Physicians generally treat heart failure with a combination of medications according to severity, type and cause of heart failure. In some cases, surgery or pace-maker devices are necessary. If irreparable damage has occurred, a heart transplant is sometimes considered.


More Information on Congestive Heart Failure

Tips for Coping with Congestive Heart Failure

A diagnosis of heart failure can be a devastating shock, and it is important to remember that changes implemented today can help positively affect one’s health. By adapting to a heart-healthy lifestyle and adopting better wellness habits, the risk of further heart complications can be significantly reduced.

  • Keep track of your blood pressure levels. As high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and damage to heart tissue, it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. If it is high, make sure it is appropriately managed.
  • Since obesity places considerable strain on the heart, it is extremely important to maintain a healthy and stable weight. With a balanced diet, regular exercise, and a little help from a reputable weight-loss program or dietician, you can reach your ideal goal weight.
  • Keep a record book. Weigh yourself each morning before breakfast and after urinating, and monitor this weight in a notebook. Notify your physician if you notice sudden weight gain, as this could mean that you are retaining water. If blood pressure is a problem, monitor these readings in a similar fashion.
  • Eat a heart-friendly diet low in fat, calories, and salt and high in vegetables, fruits, and fiber. Eating well does not have to mean boring, as there are many resources available that suggest healthy yet tasty meals.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking not only damages your blood vessels, it also reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and makes your heart beat faster, thus contributing greatly to heart failure. If you do smoke, consider quitting smoking naturally.
  • Manage stress levels. Stress puts strain on the heart, as well as the immune system, so find ways of coping with it. Reduce stressful responsibilities and consider incorporating stress-reducing techniques such as yoga, Pilates or meditation into your daily routine.
  • Limit alcohol consumption or consider stopping alcohol altogether, as alcohol can increase your chances of heart failure.
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