Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a chronic progressive condition that affects the pumping power of your heart muscles. While often referred to simply as “heart failure,” CHF specifically refers to the stage in which fluid builds up around the heart and causes it to pump inefficiently. You have four heart chambers. The upper half of your heart has two atria, and the lower half of your heart has two ventricles. The ventricles pump blood to your body’s organs and tissues, and the atria receive blood from your body as it circulates back from the rest of your body. CHF develops when your ventricles can’t pump blood in sufficient volume to the body. Eventually, blood and other fluids can back up inside your: lungs, abdomen, liver, lower body. CHF can be life-threatening. If you suspect you or someone near you has CHF, seek immediate medical treatment.
Causes of CHF
CHF may result from other health conditions that directly affect your cardiovascular system. This is why it’s important to get annual checkups to lower your risk for heart health problems, including high blood pressure (hypertension), coronary artery disease, and valve conditions.
When your blood pressure is higher than normal, it may lead to CHF. Hypertension occurs when your blood vessels become restricted by cholesterol and fat. This makes it harder for your blood to pass through them.
- Coronary artery disease
Cholesterol and other types of fatty substances can block the coronary arteries, which are the small arteries that supply blood to the heart. This causes the arteries to become narrow. Narrower coronary arteries restrict your blood flow and can lead to damage in your arteries.
- Valve conditions
Your heart valves regulate blood flow through your heart by opening and closing to let blood in and out of the chambers. Valves that don’t open and close correctly may force your ventricles to work harder to pump blood. This can be a result of a heart infection or defect.
- Other conditions
While heart-related diseases can lead to CHF, there are other seemingly unrelated conditions that may increase your risk, too. These include diabetes, thyroid disease, and obesity. Severe infections and allergic reactions may also contribute to CHF.
Symptoms of CHF
In the early stages of CHF, you most likely won’t notice any changes in your health. If your condition progresses, you’ll experience gradual changes in your body. Symptoms you may notice first are: Fatigue, swelling in your ankles and feet, weight gain and increased need to urine. Symptoms that indicate a severe heart condition are chest pain that radiates through the upper body, rapid breathing, skin that appears blue, which is due to lack of oxygen in your lungs and fainting. Chest pain that radiates through the upper body can also be a sign of a heart attack. If you experience this or any of the other symptoms that may point to a severe heart condition, seek immediate medical attention.
Treatment of CHF
You and your doctor may consider different treatments depending on your overall health and how far your condition has progressed. There are several medications that can be used to treat CHF.
Your condition may improve with medication or surgery. Your outlook depends on how advanced your CHF is and whether you have other health conditions to treat, such as diabetes or hypertension. The earlier your condition is diagnosed, the better your outlook will be. See your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for you.