What Is Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive heart failure is defined as the heart’s inability to pump blood through the body. It’s a serious condition and requires immediate treatment. Understanding the causes and symptoms is key to seeking effective treatment that could save your life.

8 minute read

Last Updated July 6, 2020

Heart Failure Symptoms - Heart - 1MD

Heart failure (or congestive heart failure) is defined as the heart’s inability to pump blood through the body. Without blood flow and oxygen delivery, every major function in the body is disrupted. Heart failure is a collection of symptoms that weakens the heart causing impairment. Heart failure is a very serious condition and requires immediate treatment.

Congestive Heart Failure Causes

The most common cause of heart failure is CAD, or coronary artery disease. This disorder causes the narrowing of the arteries, which results in a loss of blood supply to the heart. 

Heart failure is usually caused by or related to another condition or disease. Outside of CAD, the conditions that increase your risk for heart failure include:

♦ A congenital heart defect
♦ A heart attack
Hypertension
♦ Diabetes
♦ HIV or AIDS
♦ Drug or alcohol abuse
♦ Emphysema
♦ Thyroid problems

Signs of Congestive Heart Failure 

Knowing the symptoms is essential, so you can seek immediate medical attention, which has been shown to improve your outcome dramatically. The symptoms of heart failure can include:

♦ Excessive fatigue
♦ Sudden weight gain
♦ Heart palpitations
♦ Persistent coughing
♦ Abnormal swelling
Shortness of breath
♦ Loss of appetite
Irregular pulse
♦ Protruding neck veins
Chest pain, if failure is a result of a heart attack

Heart Failure Diagnosis

An echocardiogram is the best way to diagnose heart failure effectively. Sound waves are used to create pictures of the heart so doctors can evaluate any damage and identify underlying causes. A physical exam is also done to check for physical signs of heart failure such as swollen limbs, bulging veins, and irregular heartbeat.

Congestive Heart Failure Treatment

The treatment program for heart failure depends on the severity of your condition. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve symptoms quite quickly. 

The goal of any heart failure treatment is to relieve symptoms and increase your lifespan. Medications are typically prescribed to alleviate symptoms and to prevent the condition from getting worse. Medications are designed to improve the heart’s ability to pump blood, reduce blood clots and cholesterol, and to remove excess sodium.

Heart Failure Diet

Eating a healthy diet can help you prevent heart failure or reduce the risk of any further complications after you have suffered heart failure. There are a few basic tips to help you work towards a healthier diet for your heart.

Eat a variety: The more variety you eat, the more nutrients you will absorb, which benefits your heart and body. 

Control salt intake: Too much sodium is bad for your heart, so you want to lower your daily intake to below 1,500 milligrams per day. Managing sodium consumption is one of the most important dietary changes you can make for heart failure. 

Add more fiber: Fiber helps to control cholesterol and blood pressure, and it also controls blood sugar levels by keeping food moving along the digestive tract. Fiber is a heart-healthy nutrient and can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables, bran, beans, and whole grains. Aim for 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day.

Read your labels: Sodium can be hidden in foods, so get in the habit of reading labels carefully to keep control over the amount of sodium you are consuming.

Natural Treatments for Heart Failure

Avoiding alcohol if you have had heart failure is an essential way to reduce your risk of any future heart complications. If you smoke, your doctor will also recommend that you quit, which will reverse any damage done to your blood vessels and preventing future problems. 

Getting enough sleep is also important for preventing heart failure because a lack of restful sleep leaves your heart tired, which reduces its efficiency. 

There are also supplements that have been shown to boost heart health and prevent heart failure as well as maintain better health if you have already had heart failure. The top natural supplements to try include:

♦ Omega-3 fatty acid (commonly found in fish or krill oil supplements)
♦ Magnesium
♦ Coenzyme Q10
♦ L-Carnitine
♦ Garlic
Astaxanthin (also found in krill oil supplements)

Heart Failure Surgery

In some cases of heart failure, surgery may be required. The most common surgical procedure is a coronary bypass, which involves a healthy piece of the artery being attached to the blocked coronary artery. Blood bypasses the damaged artery and can flow through a new one. 

Angioplasty is also common. This is where the doctor inserts a catheter with a balloon into the blocked artery. Once inflated, the artery remains open, and a stent is placed inside to permanently keep the artery open.

What Are the Variations of Heart Failure?

Heart failure can occur on the left or right side of the heart, but both sides can also fail at the same time. 

Left-sided heart failure: This is the most common type, and it occurs when the left ventricle does not pump efficiently. As a result, your body does not get enough oxygen-rich blood, and the blood backs up into your lungs, causing shortness of breath and fluid buildup.

Right-sided heart failure: This occurs when the right ventricle cannot pump effectively and is often triggered by left-sided heart failure. The accumulation of blood in the lungs forces the right side to work harder and can stress it out, causing it to fail. This type can also occur as a result of lung disease.

Heart failure is also classified as either diastolic or systolic heart failure.

Diastolic heart failure: Diastolic heart failure is when the heart muscle becomes stiff, which is most often due to heart disease. The heart will not fill as efficiently as it should. This type is more common in women.

Systolic heart failure: Systolic heart failure results when the heart muscles lose the ability to contract as a result of a weakened or enlarged heart. Without proper contractions, the body is deprived of oxygen-rich blood. This type is more common in men.

Heart Failure Statistics

♦ One in nine deaths is caused by heart failure in the U.S.
♦ Approximately 5.7 million American adults have heart failure.
♦ About half of those who develop heart failure die within 5 years of the initial diagnosis.
♦ Heart failure costs the nation an estimated $30.7 billion annually.

Heart Failure and Children

Heart failure in children is most often caused by a congenital heart defect that they are born with. In rare cases, children can develop heart failure as the result of an infection or another medical condition, but mostly heart failure is seen in adults. Children who have heart failure can have either side of the heart affected, and symptoms and treatment are the same as with adults.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

Heart failure can be improved with treatment or surgical procedures, but it is important for you to maintain good heart health. Preventing heart failure is possible by following a heart-healthy diet and making healthy lifestyle choices. 

Your long-term outlook depends on the severity of damage that has been done to your heart. Any other health conditions like diabetes or hypertension will also impact this. Following treatment plans that your doctor provides is the best solution.

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