Congestive Heart Failure (CHF): Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive Heart Failure or CHF means the heart can’t pump enough blood required by the body. It doesn’t mean that the heart has stopped or is likely to stop working. The pumping efficiency of the heart is not impaired all of a sudden. This is the result of many disease processes over a long period of time.

Pumping anomaly of the heart is called “congestive heart failure” because the flow of blood congests vital organs like the liver and the lungs instead of reaching other parts of the body. However, not all heart failure is congestive. You might have shortness of breath or weakness due to heart failure and not have any fluid building up.

What cause Congestive Heart Failure:

Medical science highlights the following diseases and habits that cause Congestive Heart Failure:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Longstanding alcohol abuse
  • Disorders of the heart valves
  • Diabetes
  • Sedentary lifestyle

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure:

The most common signs and symptoms of heart failure are shortness of breath or trouble breathing; fatigue; and swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach, and veins in the neck. All of these symptoms are the result of fluid buildup in the body. When symptoms start, one may feel tired and short of breath after routine physical effort, like climbing stairs. Shortness of breath may occur:

  • while resting
  • with increased activity
  • while lying flat (orthopnea)
  • while awakening the person from sleep (paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea); or
  • due to fluid (water, mainly) accumulation in the lungs

When to see a doctor:

If you experience the above symptom(s), you must schedule an appointment with your PCP. However, you must get emergency treatment if you experience any of the following:

  • Pressure in your chest,
  • Extreme fatigue or weakness
  • Fluttering sensation in the chest
  • Abnormal heartbeat associated with shortness of breath, chest pain or fainting
  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus

How is Congestive Heart Failure Diagnosed:

Congestive Heart Failure is diagnosed by reviewing a patient’s medical history, a detailed physical examination, and some diagnostic tests like Electrocardiogram (EKG, ECG), Chest X-ray, complete blood count (CBC) and more.

The New York Heart Association has developed a scale that is commonly used to determine the functional capabilities of a patient with heart failure. New York Heart Association (NYHA) Functional Classification of Heart Failure:

  • Class I – Patients without limitation of physical activity.
  • Class II – Patients with slight limitation of physical capacity, in which marked increase in physical activity leads to fatigue, palpitations, dyspnea, or angina pain; they are comfortable at rest.
  • Class III – Patients with marked limitation of physical activity in which minimal ordinary activity results in fatigue, palpitation, dyspnea, or angina pain; they are comfortable at rest.
  • Class IV – Patients who are not only unable to carry on any physical activity without discomfort but who also have symptoms of heart failure or the angina syndrome even at rest; the patient’s discomfort increases if any physical activity is undertaken

Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure:

The purpose of the treatment is to make the heart beat normally and efficiently. Weight loss, establishing an exercise program, stopping smoking, and controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes may help in the management of congestive heart failure. Decreasing salt intake and fluid restriction have been helpful as well. End stage patients (Class IV by NYHA) may require serious medical interventions like left ventricular assist devices (LVAD), valve surgery and some more complicated procedures.

Medical Science is yet to successfully reverse all conditions that lead to heart failure, but early interventions and proper treatments can improve the signs and symptoms of heart failure and increase longevity. Lifestyle changes — such as exercising, healthy diet with minimum salt, reducing stress and controlling weight — can have a remarkable impact on improving the conditions that lead to heart failure.



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