Congestive Heart Failure

Heart Failure’s Impact

Heart failure affects nearly 6 million Americans. Roughly 670,000 people are diagnosed with heart failure each year. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65.

What Is Congestive Heart Failure?

Heart failure does not mean the heart has stopped working. Rather, it means that the heart’s pumping power is weaker than normal leading to a slower rate of blood flow throughout the body. As the heart gets weaker, it cannot pump enough blood which carries oxygen and nutrients to meet the body’s needs.

As a result, the kidneys may respond by causing the body to retain fluid (water) and salt. If fluid builds up in the arms, legs, ankles, feet, lungs, or other organs, the body becomes congested, leading to “congestive heart failure.”

What Causes Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive heart failure is caused by many conditions that damage the heart muscle, including:

Coronary artery disease (CAD): a disease of the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart, causes decreased blood flow to the heart muscle. If the arteries become blocked or severely narrowed, the heart becomes starved for oxygen and nutrients.

Heart attack: A heart attack occurs when a coronary artery becomes suddenly blocked, stopping the flow of blood to the heart muscle. A heart attack damages the heart muscle, resulting in a scarred area that does not function properly.

Cardiomyopathy: Damage to the heart muscle from causes other than artery or blood flow problems, such as from infections or alcohol or drug abuse

Conditions that overwork the heart. Conditions including high blood pressure, valvular heart disease such as aortic stenosis, thyroid disease, kidney disease, diabetes, or heart defects present at birth can all cause heart failure.

Other factors that cause congestive heart failure:

  • Viral infections
  • Some chemotherapeutic agents for cancer
  • Illicit drugs
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Genetic abnormalities in families
  • Idiopathic cardiomyopathy (the cause is unknown)
  • Unusual fatigue with activity
  • Shortness of breath with activity
  • Difficulty breathing when lying down
  • Cough with exercise or lying down
  • Ankle swelling
  • Loss of appetite and abdominal discomfort
  • Fluid weight gain

What Are the Types of Heart Failure?

Systolic dysfunction (or systolic heart failure) occurs when the heart muscle doesn’t contract with enough force, so there is less oxygen-rich blood that is pumped throughout the body.

Diastolic dysfunction (or diastolic heart failure) occurs when the heart contracts normally, but the ventricles do not relax properly or are stiff, and less blood enters the heart during normal filling.

How Is Congestive Heart Failure Diagnosed?

One or more of the following tests may be done if congestive heart failure is suspected:

Chest x-rays can show heart enlargement and build-up of fluid in the lungs.

Echocardiograms measure the heart’s size and movement during contraction and relaxation and calculate the ejection fraction.

ECGs (electrocardiograms) record the electrical activity of the heart and show changes in heart rhythm and wall thickness.

Heart catheterization involves 2 types of test. In one test, a catheter is inserted into the heart to measure the pressures and flows to see how well the heart is working to fill and empty as a pump. In the other test, dye is injected into the coronary arteries to check for blockages as a possible cause of heart failure. One or both parts may be necessary.

Other scans may be done using injections of radioactive tracers to look for correctable causes of heart failure.

In order to discover more about congestive heart failure and its potential causes and ramifications please view this PDF by the American Heart Association.

If you believe you are having symptoms related to the heart but suspect it may be something different then congestive heart failure please visit our conditions page for a complete list. Don’t hesitate to contact us today for help and to schedule an appointment.

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