What is Congestive Heart Failure?

Most of us have heard the term ‘congestive heart failure’ or have even known someone who has had it. But what exactly is congestive heart failure? Who is at risk ? What are its symptoms and how is it treated? What is the prognosis for those that have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure?

Around 670,000 people are diagnosed with congestive heart failure each year and it is the leading cause of hospitalization in those over 65, so you may be very interested to know the answers these questions.

What is Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive heart failure is not actually a complete failure of the heart. Rather, it means that the heart is failing to pump blood at the proper rate. This puts pressure on the heart since blood may accumulate in the chambers of the heart causing it to swell and weaken the walls of the heart. In response to this the kidneys will cause the body to retain fluid often in the lungs, arms, legs, or abdomen.  This short video gives a simple explanation of what happens during congestive heart failure.

Risk Factors and Symptoms

Those who have high blood pressure, diabetes, have had a previous heart attack, thyroid disease, or irregular heartbeats are more at risk of developing congestive heart failure. Really, anything that puts added stress or strain on the heart can put you at a higher risk.

Symptoms of heart failure include the following:

  • Swelling in your legs, ankle, feet or abdomen
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath caused by fluid in the lungs
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Chest pain
In some cases of congestive heart failure no symptoms may be present. However, if you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms it may wise to schedule a checkup with your doctor. He may schedule a stress test, a chest x-ray, blood tests to determine kidney and thyroid function, or a B-type Natriuretic Peptide (BNP) blood test.
Treatment and Prognosis

If you are diagnosed with congestive heart failure your doctor may suggest a few treatment options depending of the stage of failure you are experiencing. Common treatment plans include:

  • ACE inhibitors
  • Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and discontinuing drug use
  • Diuretics
  • Diet changes such as restricted salt intake
  • Beta blockers
  • Treatment for high blood pressure
  • Pacemaker installation
In most cases, no matter what the stage of heart failure is, ACE inhibitors are prescribed. ACE inhibitors are an antihypertensive drug which aids in the elimination of fluids and salt. This allows the arteries to relax.
Congestive heart failure is a condition that is often controlled by lifestyle changes, careful monitoring and proper medication. However, congestive heart failure is a chronic condition and doctors may be hesitant to give a life expectancy to a patient. Many continue to live for several years, however, 7 out of 10 patients die within 10 years. Early diagnosis and proper care are key for treating congestive heart failure.


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