What is congestive
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 and causes it to pump
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.
What 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
It’s possible to have left-sided and right-sided
CHF at the same time. Usually, the disease starts in the left side and then
travels to the right when it’s left untreated.
What 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
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 in 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.
What are the symptoms
In the early stages of CHF, you most likely won’t
notice any changes in your health. As your condition gets worse, you’ll
experience gradual changes in your body.
|Symptoms you may notice first||Symptoms that indicate your condition has worsened||Symptoms that indicate a severe heart condition|
|fatigue||irregular heartbeat||chest pain that radiates through the upper body|
|swelling in your ankles, feet, and legs||a cough that develops from congested lungs||rapid breathing|
|weight gain||wheezing||skin that appears blue, which is due to lack of oxygen in your lungs|
|increased need to urinate, especially at night||shortness of breath, which may indicate pulmonary edema||fainting|
Chest pain that radiates
through the upper body can also be a sign of a heart attack. If you experience
it or any of the other symptoms that point to a severe heart condition, please
seek immediate medical attention.
How 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.
Here are some tests your cardiologist may recommend:
- An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) records your
- An echocardiogram uses sound waves to record the
heart’s structure and motion.
- An MRI takes pictures of your heart.
- Stress tests show how well your heart
performs under different levels of stress.
- Blood tests can check for abnormal blood cells and
- Cardiac 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.
What 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
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE
inhibitors) open up narrowed blood vessels to improve blood flow. Vasodilators
are another option if you cannot tolerate ACE inhibitors.
- Beta-blockers 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, more
invasive procedures 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.
What 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.
CHF and genetics