So, your doctor just about gave you heart failure as he delivered a diagnosis of congestive heart failure, or CHF. Now, you’re wondering what living with CHF means.
How is it treated? Does it mean I’m going to have a heart attack? What about my quality of life? Will I die from congestive heart failure? What lifestyle changes do I need to make?
There isn’t enough room in this article to answer every question about living with congestive heart failure. But, if you need general information and an overview of congestive heart failure, then you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, you’ll find information about congestive heart failure, its symptoms, treatments, and what you can expect to encounter when living with congestive heart failure.
What is congestive heart failure?
My least favorite thing in the world is car trouble. Nothing heats my blood like being stranded by the side of the road with the hood of my car up clearly signaling my distress.
Our heart functions much like an auto engine, only instead of circulating gasoline, it’s the mechanism used to pump blood to the rest of the body. Just as an auto doesn’t run properly if it doesn’t get enough fuel, your body won’t function properly if the heart doesn’t do its job and deliver blood and oxygen.
In simplest terms, congestive heart failure means that the heart has failed to do its job properly and adequate supplies of blood are not being delivered to vital organs.
Systolic and Diastolic Heart Failure
There are two types of congestive heart failure: systolic and diastolic. The two forms differ in the way that they prevent the heart from doing its job. In systolic heart failure, the left ventricle doesn’t contract with enough force to adequately pump the blood out of the heart chambers.
On the other hand, in diastolic heart failure the heart muscles themselves have become very stiff and inflexible preventing them from filling up with enough blood. Diastolic heart failure is sometimes referred to as heart failure with normal ejection fraction.
Regardless of the type of heart failure, the end result is the same -- the heart isn’t delivering adequate supplies of blood and oxygen necessary to keep the body healthy.
Right-sided Heart Failure/Left-sided Heart Failure
While both sides are generally involved, it’s possible to have congestive heart failure in only one side of the heart. Cases where only one side of the heart is involved are referred to as right-sided heart failure, or left-sided heart failure.
Left-sided heart failure is the most common form of heart failure. Persons with left-sided heart failure may experience shortness of breath as fluid backs up into the lungs.
Right-sided heart failure causes swelling in the stomach, as well as the legs and feet. Even if only one side of the heart is in heart failure, it still means that your heart is not doing its job properly. This may cause fluids to begin to accumulate and back up in other parts of the body such as your arms and legs, lungs, intestines, and liver.
Causes of Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure may be caused by a number of conditions or diseases, including:
• Coronary artery disease or CAD -- narrowing of the blood vessels leading to the heart
• Cardiomyopathy -- damage or an infection that weakens the heart
• Congenital heart disease -- congenital means that you were born with the condition
• Other heart conditions such as heart attack, heart valve disease, or arrhythmias
• Diseases and conditions such as emphysema, over or under-active thyroid, anemia, high blood pressure, diabetes, or sleep apnea.
If you currently have any of these conditions, you are more likely to develop congestive heart failure
Heart Failure Symptoms
Symptoms of congestive heart failure may present themselves gradually. In some instances, it’s possible to experience symptoms only when engaged in some type of exertion or physical activity. The symptoms then gradually worsen until you experience them even when at rest. If there has been some type of triggering event such as a heart attack, congestive heart failure symptoms may present suddenly.
While congestive heart failure symptoms may vary, common symptoms include: cough, weight gain, shortness of breath, inability to sleep more than a few hours due to shortness of breath, swollen extremities (hands and feet), enlarged liver, frequent urination at night, irregular or fast pulse, loss of appetite, fatigue, faintness, inability to concentrate, loss of appetite, nausea, or general weakness.
Heart Failure Treatment
Heart failure is a serious medical condition. It’s important to seek medical attention immediately and proactively to treat your congestive heart failure.
Some treatment options include:
• Medications: Depending on your individual condition, your doctor may choose to prescribe medications to either treat symptoms of congestive heart failure or to prevent your condition from worsening.
Commonly prescribed medications include those designed to lower cholesterol, prevent blood clot formation, improve the heart’s ability to pump blood, replace lost potassium, dilate blood vessels, or expel excess fluids.
• Self-monitoring: It’s important to understand the symptoms of congestive heart failure and self-monitor for those symptoms so that you can treat episodes as quickly as possible.
At a minimum, you’ll want to do the following: monitor your weight because a sudden weight gain may signal fluid retention, limit the amount of salt you consume, monitor your fluid intake to match levels recommended by your doctor, and frequently monitor blood pressure levels and pulse rate.
• Lifestyle changes: Simple lifestyle changes can improve heart failure prognosis, including, limiting alcohol consumption, losing weight, lowering cholesterol, quitting smoking, staying physically active, and making certain that you get enough rest.
• Surgeries or medical devices: In some cases, patients with congestive heart failure may need surgery, such as coronary bypass surgery or CABG, angioplasty or heart valve surgery. Medical devices such as a pacemaker or defibrillator are sometimes necessary to improve the heart’s pumping ability.
Sometimes, treatment doesn’t work and congestive heart failure may become so severe that a heart transplant is required. While waiting for a transplant, your doctor may recommend the use of an intra-aortic balloon pump or IABP, or a left ventricular assist device or LVAD.
Congestive Heart Failure Prognosis
Because congestive heart failure is a chronic or long-term condition, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible, begin treatment, and implement lifestyle changes early to improve your prognosis, seek follow-up care when necessary.
While every case is unique to the individual, congestive heart failure can frequently be prevented through the use of medications, lifestyle changes, self-monitoring triggering conditions, and treating underlying causes, if any.
Unfortunately, congestive heart failure is not always controllable and the symptoms may become severe and life-threatening. It’s important to monitor your health and work closely with your health care professional to secure the best prognosis and improve your life expectancy.
Reviewed by: Michael M. Chen. Heart Failure. National Center for Biotechnology Information. US National Library of Medicine. 22 Jul 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001211
Heart Failure. The Mayo Clinic. 22 Mar 2011. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-failure/DS00061
Reviewed September 12, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Malu Banuelos