Is Congestive Heart Failure?
Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a chronic progressive
condition that affects the pumping power of your heart muscles. While often
referred to simply as “heart failure”, CHF specifically refers to the stage in
which fluid builds up around the heart causing it to pump inefficiently.
You have four heart chambers. The upper half of your heart has
two atria, and the lower half of your heart has two ventricles. The ventricles pump
blood to your organs and tissues, and the atria receive blood as it circulates
back from the rest of your body.
CHF develops when your ventricles can’t pump blood in
sufficient volume to the body. Eventually, blood and other fluids back up
- lower body
CHF can be life-threatening. It’s important to get immediate
medical treatment for it.
Are the Most Common Types of CHF?
Left-sided CHF is the most common type of CHF. It occurs
when your left ventricle doesn’t properly pump blood out to your body. As the
condition progresses, fluid can build up in your lungs, which makes breathing
Right-sided CHF is when the right ventricle has difficulty
pumping blood to your lungs. Blood backs up in your blood vessels, which causes
fluid retention in your lower extremities, abdomen, and other vital organs.
It’s possible to have right-sided and left-sided CHF at the
same time. Usually, the disease starts in the left side first, and then travels
to the right when it’s left untreated.
Are the Causes of CHF, and Am I At Risk?
CHF may result from other health conditions that directly
affect your cardiovascular system. That’s why it’s important to get annual
checkups to lower your risk for heart health problems, including high blood
pressure (hypertension), coronary artery disease, and valve conditions.
When your blood pressure is higher than normal, it may lead
to CHF. Hypertension occurs when your blood vessels become restricted by cholesterol
and fat. This makes it harder for your blood to pass through them.
Coronary Artery Disease
Cholesterol and other types of fatty substances can block
the coronary arteries, which are the small arteries that supply blood to the
heart. This causes the arteries to become narrow. Narrower coronary arteries restrict
your blood flow and lead to damage to your arteries.
Your heart valves regulate blood flow through your heart by
opening and closing to let blood in and out of the chambers. Valves that don’t
open and close correctly may force your ventricles to work harder to pump
blood. This can be a result of a heart infection or defect.
While heart-related diseases can lead to CHF, there are
other seemingly unrelated conditions that may increase your risk, too. These
include diabetes, thyroid disease, and obesity. Severe infections and allergic
reactions may also contribute to CHF.
Are the Symptoms of CHF?
In the early stages of CHF, you most likely won’t notice any
changes in your health. As your condition get worse, you’ll experience gradual
changes in your body.
Symptoms you may notice first include:
- swelling in your ankles, feet, and legs
- weight gain
- increased need to urinate, especially at night
Symptoms that indicate your condition has worsened include:
- irregular heartbeat
- a cough that develops from congested lungs
- shortness of breath, which may indicate
Symptoms that indicate a severe heart condition that require
immediate medical attention include:
- chest pain that radiates through the upper body,
which can also be a sign of a heart attack
- rapid breathing
- skin that appears blue, which is due to lack of
oxygen in your lungs
Is CHF Diagnosed?
After reporting your symptoms to your healthcare provider, they
may refer you to a heart specialist, or cardiologist.
Your cardiologist will perform a physical exam. The exam may
involve listening to your heart with a stethoscope to detect abnormal heart
rhythms. To confirm an initial diagnosis, your cardiologist might order certain
diagnostic tests to examine your heart’s valves, blood vessels, and chambers.
These following are some tests your cardiologist may order:
- An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) records your
- An echocardiogram uses sound waves to record the
hearts structure and motion.
- An MRI takes
pictures of your heart.
tests show how well your heart performs under different levels of
tests can check for abnormal blood cells and infections.
catheterization will show blockages of the coronary arteries. Your doctor
inserts a small tube into your blood vessel and threads it from your upper
thigh, (groin area), arm, or wrist.
Medications and Treatments Will I Need?
You and your doctor may consider different treatments
depending on your overall health and how far your condition has progressed.
There are several medications that can be used to treat CHF:
enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) open up narrowed blood vessels to improve
blood flow. Vasodilators are another option if you cannot tolerate ACE
can reduce blood pressure and slow a rapid heart rhythm.
- Diuretics reduce your body’s fluid content. CHF
can cause your body to retain more fluid than it should.
If medications are not effective on their own, surgery may
be required. Angioplasty, a procedure to open up blocked arteries, is one
option. Your cardiologist may also consider heart valve repair surgery to help
your valves open and close properly.
Can I Expect in the Long Term?
Your condition may improve with medication or surgery. Your
outlook depends on how advanced your CHF is and whether you have other health
conditions to treat, such as diabetes or hypertension. The earlier your
condition is diagnosed, the better your outlook will be. See your doctor to
determine the best treatment plan for you.