I have to admit that I’ve always thought of chronic heart failure, commonly referred to as congestive heart failure, as a condition that developed in older persons during their declining years. Since my years are – at least in my opinion – a far cry from being in the declining stage, learning about heart failure hasn’t been on my high list of heart conditions to watch. That is, it wasn’t only my heart condition watch list until recently when a good friend of mine called to tell me he’d been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure? Yikes! He’s only a couple of years older than I am and we were all left wondering how this happened to someone still so young – at least young by our definition!
The truth is that heart failure can happen to anyone but there are certain risk factors that make you more susceptible. Although coronary artery or heart disease remains the number one cause of heart failure, other conditions such as high blood pressure or hypertension, diabetes, previous heart attack, damaged or defective heart muscles or valves, sleep apnea, and heart arrhythmias - just to name a few - also lead to an increased risk of heart failure. (Mayo Clinic 1.)
Heart failure is a condition that can be ongoing or chronic. The heart continues to beat but not at maximum efficiency. The damage caused by the various risk factors and conditions leave behind a heart that isn’t able to properly do its job and supply oxygen in the needed amounts to the rest of the organs in the body. Simply put, heart failure means that the heart can’t keep up with the supply and demand for blood and oxygen.
Unfortunately, many people do not even know that they have heart failure or that they are at risk for heart failure until a medical event triggers the diagnosis. There are a variety of tests available to physicians that aide in making a diagnosis of heart failure including blood tests, chest X-rays, electrocardiogram or ECG, echocardiogram, stress test, angiogram, cardiac computerized tomography or CT scan, and magnetic resonance imaging or MRI.