Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition in which the heart does not pump enough oxygenated blood to the body and its organs. Congestive heart failure is not a disease, but rather a syndrome caused by other conditions.
Common Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms
The most common congestive heart failure symptom is shortness of breath (dyspnea). Shortness of breath associated with congestive heart failure most often occurs during exertion and while lying down (orthopnea). The shortness of breath tends to be improved when the person sleeps in a semi-upright position.
A person with congestive heart failure symptoms may also awaken during the night with long lasting shortness of breath (paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea).
Extreme fatigue or tiredness, with little to no activity involved, is also a symptom of congestive heart failure.
As blood flow slows due to the hearts slowed pumping; it can backup in the tissues causing swelling. Often this occurs in the feet and ankles.
In people with congestive heart failure; the heart continues to function but not as efficiently as it should to meet the body’s needs.
Conditions that contribute to CHF:
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension) that leads to a thickening of the heart wall muscle
- Heart Infections that spread to the heart and damage it. Rheumatic fever and infected teeth can cause this.
- Narrowed arteries (from coronary artery disease) that supply blood to the heart muscle. High cholesterol contributes to coronary artery disease.
- Long term toxic exposure to alcohol, cocaine and other drugs
- Serious arrhythmias can damage the heart muscle over time. An arrhythmia is a fast, slow or irregular heartbeat. The arrhythmia causes a weakening of the heart muscle which contributes to CHF.
- Pericardial disease (pericarditis). The pericardium is the membrane surrounding the heart. An inflammation of the pericardium is called pericarditis. An excess fluid accumulation within the pericardium can affect the hearts ability to expand and contract fully and pump blood to the body. If a thickening of the pericardium occurs, the heart works harder to pump blood becomes weak.
- Congenital heart defects; which are present at birth
- Past heart attack (myocardial infarction) Not all heart attacks will result in congestive heart failure. Scar tissue can form due to heart muscle damage and interfere with it’s ability to perform a normal work load.
- Rheumatic fever (and others) can cause damage or disease to heart valves.
- Infection involving the heart valves (endocarditis) and/or heart muscle (myocarditis).
Diagnosing Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms
Your doctor can best diagnose if your symptoms are CHF. Medical history and diagnostic study of the heart is used to determine if you have CHF.
Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms
A treatment program for CHF usually involves:
- Changing unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and drug use.
- Proper diet and weight loss.
- Rest with periods of activity as tolerated.
- Medications that improve the pumping ability of the heart and make it easier for the heart to function such as diuretics, beta blockers, vasodilators and ACE inhibitors.
- Treating the underlying factors contributing to CHF. For example high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart malfunctions.
Patients with mild to moderate congestive heart failure have a good prognosis with treatment. Left untreated CHF can lead to permanent damage to the heart, possibly even death.