Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

What is Congestive Heart Failure?

Nearly 700,000 people are diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF) each year. Related symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the underlying cause. Treatment can include lifestyle modifications and medication. Some patients may reach a point where a heart transplant is necessary.

Recognizing Congestive Heart Failure

Resulting from the inability of the heart muscle to sufficiently pump enough oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the body, congestive heart failure can present fairly vague symptoms. There’s often an underlying health issue, such as coronary artery disease or damage to the heart muscle from sources other than arterial flow problems (cardiomyopathy), that’s impairing the heart’s ability to function properly.

Diagnosis

A physical exam and lab tests can confirm CHF. Medical history and general health are also taken into account since patients with existing conditions such as kidney disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes tend to be at a higher risk.

What are the Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure?

Symptoms include

  • Shortness of breath with no clear reason
  • Fatigue, general weakness, or dizziness
  • Swelling (usually in arms, legs, ankles, or feet)
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats

How is Congestive Heart Failure Treated?

Treatment includes

Mild forms of heart failure are often treated with adjustments to diet and lifestyle. The goal of treatment for congestive heart failure is to minimize symptoms and improve quality of life. Beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, and diuretics (water pills) are among the medications commonly prescribed to restore normal blood flow.

Surgery

Ventricular assist devices may be surgically inserted during later stages of heart failure. A cardiac defibrillator is sometimes recommended. A heart transplant is a last resort and only suggested if other treatment options are no longer effective.

The American Heart Association recommends preventative measures such as regular exercise and a balanced diet that includes fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Keeping blood pressure within a normal range, monitoring cholesterol levels, and getting regular physical exams can also help reduce the risk of experiencing congestive heart failure.