Introduction to Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure is a medical condition often referred to simply as “heart failure.” CHF can have serious negative consequences, including death, if not identified and treated. Being aware of the signs of this condition allows an individual to make changes in daily habits to promote a healthier life.

The heart, as the internal distribution center of blood, is the most important muscular organ in the body. During normal function, deoxygenated blood enters the heart's right atrium, moves through the right ventricle, goes to the lungs to receive oxygenated red blood cells, re-enters the heart through the left atrium, goes to the left ventricle and then leaves the organ to disperse blood throughout the rest of the body.

When the heart can no longer pump enough blood through these chambers to meet the body’s needs, individuals may find themselves faced with congestive heart failure exacerbation.

What You Need To Know About Congestive Heart Failure

Chronic heart failure is when the symptoms of CHF emerge gradually over time. Acute heart failure means the symptoms appear suddenly and are typical of CHF exacerbation. There are two main types of congestive heart failure:

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Left ventricular heart failure

This is the most common type of CHF. It occurs when the left ventricle cannot pump blood to the rest of the body, and there is a backup in the lungs that leads to shortness of breath. The two types of left ventricular heart failure are systolic failure (HFrEF), where the ventricle cannot contract normally, and diastolic failure (HFpEF), where the ventricle cannot relax normally.

Right ventricular heart failure

The right ventricle cannot pump blood to the lungs and excess blood leaks into tissues and organs. This type of heart failure may lead to left ventricular heart failure.

congestive heart failure Statistics

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking decreases the ability of your blood to carry oxygen, which forces the heart to work harder.
  • Monitor your weight. High levels of cholesterol and fat in the arteries limit the amount of blood that can reach the heart.
  • Exercise at least one hour a week. This helps maintain a healthy weight.
  • Practice a regular, healthy diet. Vegetables, fruits and whole grains such as asparagus, apples and oatmeal are especially good for the heart. Avoid salts and saturated fats.
  • Limit the intake of unhealthy fluids. Soft drinks and caffeinated beverages can increase blood pressure.

Congestive Heart Failure Statistics

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  • CHF is the number one reason why people over the age of 65 are hospitalized.
  • Each year, around 670,000 are diagnosed with CHF.
  • Nearly 6 million Americans are currently affected by CHF.
  • The most common cause of death worldwide are cardiovascular diseases, including CHF.
  • The number of people diagnosed with CHF is predicted to increase by 46% by 2030.


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Signs and Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure

Some of the symptoms below are not alarming when experienced separately. However, contact your doctor if you or a loved one are experiencing any combination of these symptoms.

With CHF, the kidneys are unable to regular sodium levels or dispose of water and fluids. This can lead to multiple symptoms:

  • Swelling in legs and ankles
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Weight gain resulting from fluid retention
  • Lack of control over urination as diuretics are used to treat fluid retention

A main factor of CHF is that the heart cannot provide sufficient blood flow throughout the body. This causes numerous effects:

  • Fatigue
  • Lack of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Blue skin
  • Limited exercise ability

Other symptoms include the following:

  • Wheezing and coughing up white or pink mucus
  • Chest pain caused by other cardiac conditions that may occur alongside heart failure
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat as the heart tries to ‘fix’ itself with more pumping

Stages of CHF

There are four stages of CHF. These stages are determined by the symptoms experienced by the patient. The treatment prescribed by a doctor varies depending on the stage of CHF.

  • Stage One: No obvious symptoms, but you may be at risk for heart failure because of family history or current medical conditions. CHF can be addressed with changes in lifestyle and with medications.
  • Stage Two: Physical activity is followed by shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats and excessive fatigue. Heart monitoring, lifestyle adjustments and heart medications are recommended.
  • Stage Three: Engaging in physical activity is limited by symptoms of short breath, irregular heartbeats and excessive fatigue. Treatments are more complicated and usually include medications or surgeries such as inserting a pacemaker.
  • Stage Four: Short breath, irregular heartbeats and excessive fatigue are present even without any physical activity. There is no cure, but steps can be taken to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

Causes of Congestive Heart Failure

CHF occurs when your muscles can no longer pump blood efficiently through the chambers of the heart. Narrow arteries, fatty substances blocking blood flow and heart valve defects preventing proper pumping all contribute to CHF. Previous medical conditions that increase the risk for CHF include these:

  • Diabetes
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Past usage of heart-muscle-damaging drugs
  • Hypertension
  • Previous heart attacks
  • Family history of cardiovascular diseases

Tips to prevent congestive
heart failure

Many causes of CHF can be addressed with changes in lifestyle:

  • check
    Don’t smoke. Smoking decreases the ability of your blood to carry oxygen, which forces the heart to work harder.
  • check
    Monitor your weight. High levels of cholesterol and fat in the arteries limit the amount of blood that can reach the heart.
  • check
    Exercise at least one hour a week. This helps maintain a healthy weight.
  • check
    Practice a regular, healthy diet. Vegetables, fruits and whole grains such as asparagus, apples and oatmeal are especially good for the heart. Avoid salts and saturated fats.
  • check
    Limit the intake of unhealthy fluids. Soft drinks and caffeinated beverages can increase blood pressure.

What To Do If You Have CHF/Treatment for CHF

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If you believe yourself or a loved one may have CHF, visit your primary care doctor, who may refer you to a cardiologist. The cardiologist will check for irregular heart rhythms and perhaps recommend one of the standard diagnostic tests: electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), echocardiogram, cardiac catherization, blood test, MRI and/or stress test.

Diagnosis and treatment factors in medical history, laboratory tests and the results of the examination. Surgery may be recommended in late stages of CHF. For example, blocked arteries can be opened with an angioplasty. Heart valve repair surgery can restore the proper opening and closing of heart valves.

Curing CHF is not an option if conditions have progressed to Stage Four. However, there are options for improving the symptoms and overall quality of life.

Common treatments for the earlier stages of CHF include medication and lifestyle adjustments. Caregivers can help monitor medication intake and support the patient through diet and lifestyle regime changes.

Common Medications for Treating CHF

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  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors widen narrowed blood vessels and reduce blood pressure.
  • Beta-blockers slow rapid heartbeats and decrease blood pressure levels.
  • Diuretics decrease the amount of fluid retained in the body.
  • Aldosterone antagonists are a type of diuretic used to inhibit the reabsorption of sodium in the kidneys.
  • Angiotensin-receptor neprilysin inhibitor (ARNIs) are a combination of an ARB and a neprilysin inhibitor.
  • Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (ARBSs) are used to dilate blood vessels and reduce blood pressure.

CHF Life Expectancy

Life expectancy is variable and depends on the stage of CHF. 50 percent of people with CHF have a life expectancy of under five years. For those in the advanced stages of heart failure, there is a life expectancy of less than one year for 90 percent of patients.

Conclusion

Living with CHF means accepting new limitations and restrictions on every day, habitual things such as diet and physical activity. Embracing these changes can be challenging for both the patient and the caregiver. However, with proper planning, support systems and a flexible mind, a comfortable life with CHF is possible. Be sure to consulate your doctor with any questions and concerns that arise as you adapt to life with CHF.

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