What is Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)?
Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a serious medical issue in which one or both sides of the heart are weakened. This means it’s unable to push adequate blood supplies around the body to meet its needs.
CHF happens over time and can occur in different ways. For example, it could present as a lack of blood being pumped into the heart. Alternatively, it could be where the heart doesn’t have enough ability to pump blood out to the body. In some cases both scenarios can occur at the same time.
This condition is very common and can affect anyone of any age, although it’s more likely in people over 65. It’s estimated that 5.7 million people in the United States are affected. (1)
The heart is vital, without it the rest of body can’t work properly. It’s also a muscle organ, which means it needs regular exercise to stay strong.
Blood is pumped into the heart and around the body every second. It’s rich with oxygen and nutrients to provide power for the different areas and organs.
CHF can sound like a “end-game” condition, however heart failure does not mean that your heart is going to give up on you at any moment. It can and does take time, with the right treatment it could be years before the condition becomes fatal. (2)
Typically people who experience congestive heart failure either has or have had other heart conditions.
Some of the main causes of CHF include: coronary heart disease (CHD) in which a buildup of plaque (waxy substance) occurs in the arteries, diabetes or high blood pressure.
Other factors point towards HIV/AIDS, alcohol or drug abuse and cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. (3)
Children born with heart irregularities can also have a greater risk of developing CHF. Defects can impair the heart, forcing it to work harder to compensate. This can cause damage and over time lead to failure.
Symptoms of congestive heart failure are normally a result of fluid buildup. As the heart weakens symptoms will also get worse and more intense. (4)
Shortness of Breath
This symptom can have a variety of causes. It can come on mild or severe and make you feel uncomfortable.
When a person is affected by heart failure shortness of breath can become so severe it could transpire into difficulties just taking a breath after the smallest of tasks, such as getting dressed. Some people may even feel out of puff when at total rest. (5)
Fatigue can be described as total exhaustion and complete lack of energy to do anything both physically or mentally. (6)
Feeling unusually tired or weak as a result of the simplest of tasks without any obvious reasons could be a sign your body isn’t getting the nutrients needed from sufficient blood flow.
Swelling is a telltale sign of fluid buildup in the body. It can happen when not enough blood is circulating due to a failing heart. (7)
Congestive heart failure (CHF) can cause a condition called edema, which means swelling. There are many names for this condition depending on where it takes place. (8)
People with CHF can expect swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, abdomen and veins in the neck. It happens when fluid leaks into the tissues due to the high blood pressure and lack of blood.
Some people can also experience weight gain and a need to urinate often due to the extra fluids. (9)
A typical pattern of coughing in cases of congestive heart failure is of one which gets worse during night time when the person lies down.
This could also be a sign of pulmonary edema which is a buildup of too much fluid in the lungs. It can be a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment. (10)
Congestive heart failure is gauged upon a classification system based around severity of symptoms. (11)
Classes I through IV relates to functional capacity of the patient, whereas classes A through D are objective assessments by the doctor.
Below is a general explanation:
If there are no limitations on physical activity, such as walking up stairs or performing daily activities, it will be graded as class I
People with minor limits on physical activity which usually subside with rest. Daily tasks can result in mild fatigue and shortness of breath.
There’s a significant limitation to physical activity. Small or minor tasks can trigger symptoms, but these usually go away with rest.
People who are unable to undertake daily activities without feeling totally exhausted. Also, where symptoms don’t improve even with rest will be in class IV.
The person will not show signs of heart problems nor symptoms.
There’s minor evidence of heart disease, with mild symptoms and slight disruption of daily activities.
Dysfunctions of the heart have begun to present themselves. The symptoms are causing more significant limitations on daily activity which only improve with rest.
The person will show signs of heart failure where any physical activity will seem impossible, and discomforts persist even while resting.
In summary, a person can be diagnosed with class I symptoms, but class D evidence of heart failure. It’s also possible to have class IV symptoms and class D evidence which would be the most severe stage of congestive heart failure. (12)
Treatment will depend on the severity of the heart failure, yet the following principles apply: treating the underlying causes (diabetes, CHD, high blood pressure, ect.), reducing symptoms, preventing the condition from getting worse, increasing lifespan and improving quality of life. (13)
Early diagnosis is key in order to ensure the best possible outcome.
People diagnosed with heart failure will be advised to make healthy lifestyle changes. This could include, following a well balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, increasing physical activity and quitting bad habits such as smoking or drinking alcohol.
The type of medication prescribed for you will depend on: type of heart failure, how severe it is and how you react to the medication.
Medication can improve your heart function, keep blood from clotting, reduce damage and remove extra fluids and salts. (14)
If you have been diagnosed with heart failure it’s important to watch out for signs or symptoms which appear to worsen. You can achieve this by keeping tabs on your weight to monitor fluid buildup and tracking any changes in signs.
It’s also important to treat other heart weakening conditions, as well as trying to avoid catching the flu or any other respiratory infections. (15)
When medicines and lifestyle changes fail to work, surgery may be the only option. There are different procedures and they reflect upon which area of your heart is affected.
For example, you may need a device implanted near your heart which helps both sides beat at the same time, this is called cardiac resynchronization therapy device. (16)
Others may need a implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) which helps correct irregular rhythms in the heart. (17)
For people with severe heart failure, there may only be two options, one is a mechanical pump which helps push the blood around the body or a heart transplant. This involves receiving a new healthy heart from a donor. (18)
What is congestive heart failure (CHF)? CHF is a condition which weakens the heart muscle, making it harder to push blood around the body.
What are the signs of congestive heart failure (CHF)? Signs of CHF include: fluid buildup, shortness of breath, swelling, fatigue and coughing.
How do you develop congestive heart failure (CHF)? It’s usually caused by other heart weakening disorders which either damage the heart or overwork it. Congestive heart failure can also be caused by other conditions such as HIV/AIDS, alcohol or drug abuse, obesity and certain cancer treatments. Children born with a heart defect are also at risk of heart failure.
How are you diagnosed for congestive heart failure (CHF)? Doctors will start by asking about your medical history, giving you a physical examination in which your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs as well as look out for signs of swelling. Next will be diagnostic tests which can include blood samples. Other tests look at the functions of the heart such as EKG (electrocardiogram), cardiac MRI or a chest x-ray. (19)
What is the best treatment for congestive heart failure (CHF)? This will depend on how serious the heart failure is. Some are treated with medicine and a lifestyle change, while others require surgery or a medical procedure where a device is placed to help the heart function better.
What are the long term complications of congestive heart failure (CHF)? This can include not being able to perform normal activities and symptoms may worsen overtime. It’s not unusual for some people to feel emotional stress or anxiety. In these cases there are support groups which can help make it easier to deal with. (20)
Is congestive heart failure (CHF) considered a disability? It’s not considered to be a disability, however, if you are in later stages where physical activity is limited it can be disabling.
Is there a cure for congestive heart failure (CHF)? No, there’s no cure for CHF, but with the right treatment people can live long healthy lives without severe symptoms. (21)
Is congestive heart failure (CHF) life threatening? Yes without treatment or if you are in the advanced stages your heart can stop completely.
Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition in which your heart can’t pump the required amount of blood to supply the body’s needs. This can result in a buildup of fluids around different parts of the body.
This condition can affect anyone of any age and can be a devastating diagnosis to receive. However, for many it does not mean your heart will stop immediately. With the right treatment and the help of a healthy lifestyle, many go on to live long lives.