What is Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive heart failure affects about 5 million people in the United States. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in people age 65 or older. About 550,000 Americans are diagnosed with congestive heart failure every year. Additionally, it contributes to the death of 300,000 people annually. But, what does a diagnosis of congestive heart failure mean?

Congestive heart failure means that the heart is unable to pump enough blood out of the heart to supply the rest of the body with the oxygen it needs to thrive. In this case, the word “failure” does not mean that the heart has stopped; it means the heart is not working properly. The walls of the heart contract to pump the blood out. The heart reacts to its inability to pump enough blood by stretching the heart walls to take in more blood. Eventually the heart walls become to weak or thin to continue pumping out the blood. Since the blood cannot be pumped out of the heart, the blood may pool in other areas of the body. This results in fluid build-up in the lungs, liver, intestinal tract, arms, and legs. Since the blood is no longer oxygen-rich, organs in the body can be damaged which decreases their ability to work efficiently.

The most common symptoms of congestive heart failure are shortness of breath, fluid in the lungs, swollen feet and ankles, dizziness, weakness and fatigue. Other symptoms include rapid pulse, heart palpitations, cough, and weight gain due to fluid retention in the abdomen. Typically symptoms will begin slowly, only becoming noticeable while you are very active. However, as symptoms worsen you will begin to notice them even while you are resting. Some people suffering from congestive heart failure will not experience any symptoms. This usually occurs when a person is already suffering from another medical condition such as anemia, abnormal heart rhythm, hyperthyroidism, or infections that result in a high fever.

Other diseases which cause damage to the heart and can result in congestive heart failure are coronary artery disease, diabetes, a heart attack, and cardiomyopathy. Any condition that causes the heart to be overworked can also damage the heart. Examples of such conditions are narrowed arteries, high blood pressure, and heart valve disease.

Most people with mild to moderate congestive heart failure can be treated with medication. There are various drugs available to treat the condition and your doctor can determine which drug is best suited for your particular situation. Treatment for congestive heart failure which has already caused irreparable damage to the heart will require more drastic measures, such as a surgery.

Treatment can be as simple as following your doctor’s recommendations. Take medications as prescribed, keep your cholesterol and blood pressure under control, and get enough rest. Other things you can do to reduce your risk of congestive heart failure due to disease is to limit salt intake, don’t smoke, exercise, and lose weight if necessary to prevent fluid build-up. Taking care of your body is your best weapon.

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