Congestive heart failure does not indicate that your heart has stopped working; instead what it indicates is that your heart is pumping blood at a slower rate than normal. Because the blood moves through the heart and the body at a much slower rate, the pressure in the heart builds up. Hence, the heart cannot pump enough oxygen to the rest of the body. The heart chamber can become stretched to hold the increased pressure and to pump blood. This puts pressure on the heart muscle walls thereby causing these muscles to become weaker and less efficient in pumping blood. As a result of heart failure, other organs such as kidneys are also affected. During heart failure, or even after heart failure, the kidneys respond by retaining fluid and salt. If this fluid builds up in the arms, legs, ankles, feet, lungs, or other organs, then the body gets congested and this characterizes congestive heart failure.
Treating congestive heart failure can be done with the help of medications, changes to lifestyle and by regular monitoring and prevention of the underlying causes.
Causes of Congestive Heart Failure:
Heart failure can be caused by a number of things that can damage the heart muscles. Some of the main causes are:
• High blood pressure
• A heart attack
• Suffering from coronary heart disease
• Uncontrolled diabetes
• Excessive use of alcohol, use of illegal drugs and some prescribed medicines
• Heart problems that you have had since birth. This could include congenital heart disease.
• An infection of the heart muscle or inflammation of the heart muscle
Other causes of heart failure could include things that damage the heart’s valves. These include causes such as valve problems since birth, infection of the heart valve, aging, and fever. Rare causes of a heart failure include disease of the sac around the heart, severe anemia, and hyperthyroidism.
Symptoms of Heart Failure:
Initially, you may not see obvious symptoms when you are suffering from a heart failure as your heart and body will compensate for the slower pumping. But as your heart gets weaker and has more trouble pumping enough blood to your body, you may start to notice more severe symptoms. In the early stages of a heart failure, you may feel shortness of breath, feel tired easily after activity, feel weak or dizzy and may feel like your heart or racing and pounding. As your heart failure gets worse, you could start developing even stronger symptoms such as feeling shortness of breath while you are resting, have swollen feet and legs, weight gain, cough or wheezing in the night, the need to frequently urinate and the feeling of being bloated or being sick in your stomach.
Go to the emergency room if you develop:
• A severe chest pain
• Extreme shortness of breath/ inability to breathe even at rest
• Arrhythmia/ Fast and irregular heartbeat: heartbeat being more than 120 beats per minute
• Nausea and dizziness followed by fainting
• Foamy and pink mucus
• If you feel your pacemaker is infected. Signs of infection are same as the signs of inflammation: redness, pain, and warmth. A pacemaker is a device which is installed under your skin to regulate your heart beat.
• A severe headache that appears suddenly
• A sudden weakness with an inability to move your legs/ arms
Call your doctor or nurse if you develop any of the following symptoms:
• Weight gain all of a sudden (3 pounds/ 1.4 kg in 2 to 3 days)
• Swelling especially in your feet
• Inability to lose excess water weight, though you take more diuretics/ water pills
• An abnormal increase in coughing
• Repeated dry cough, especially when you lie down
• Waking up in the middle of sleep feeling breathless or suffocated
• Trouble breathing while doing day to day activities which you are well accustomed to
• Feeling weak
• Feeling full/ bloated
• Passing of less urine/ dark colored urine
• Development of new symptoms which are unexplained
• Change in your sleeping pattern: Difficulty falling asleep or you feel the need to sleep more than usual
• Constant dizziness accompanied with restlessness and confusion
If you are diagnosed with heart failure, the first and the most important question will be 'Who should you see?'
The doctor whom you choose will reconfirm if you have a heart failure. Look for a doctor who is an expert. Secondly, you should be comfortable with the doctor whom you chose. These factors will decide the success of your treatment.
Following doctors treat heart failure.
1. Family Medicine Practitioners and General practitioners treat heart failure also. In case if you have a complex one, they refer you to specialists.
2. Internists treat mild to moderate heart failures. They refer you to specialists for severe cases.
3. Cardiologist is a doctor who specializes in heart and blood vessels which carry blood. You may also opt to get treated by your family physician while seeing a cardiologist.
4. Cardiac Electrophysiologist treats your heart failure. They correct your heart beat. An abnormal pattern of the heartbeat is one of the causes of heart failure.
Bradycardia is when your heart fewer times per minute than normal. This affects the blood flow. Cardiac Electrophysiologist may choose to correct this problem by implanting a Pacemaker.
Cardiac Electrophysiologist will treat other heart beat problems such as Arrhythmias using different types of pacemakers.
1. Cardiac specialists repair faulty valves and blockage in blood vessels which supply the heart with blood.
2. Heart failure specialists help you with heart transplants. When no other treatment is resolving your heart failure, heart transplant becomes an option. In this procedure, the diseased heart of a patient is replaced with a healthy heart of a suitable donor.
Once you are diagnosed with heart failure, you will need to follow up with your doctor within the next few weeks. Your doctor will be checking how you respond to medicines every week.