What is Congestive Heart Failure?
Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition in which the heart cannot beat strongly enough to supply the body with blood.
What Causes Congestive Heart Failure?
Any condition that overworks the heart can cause congestive heart failure. It can happen in an instant, as after a heart attack, or very slowly, after years of untreated high blood pressure.
What Are the Risk Factors for Congestive Heart Failure?
While genes play a role in heart health, many of the risk factors for CHF are related to unhealthy lifestyle choices, including obesity and smoking.
Certain medical conditions also increase one’s risk. These include:
- Abnormal thyroid function, including overactive and underactive function
- Anemia, an inadequate number of red blood cells
- Amyloidosis, a condition in which the body accumulates abnormal deposits of proteins
- Arrhythmias, abnormal heart rhythm. If the heartbeats too quickly, it can overtax the heart; if it beats too slowly, it may not be able to pump blood to all parts of the body
- Emphysema, a chronic disease, often caused by smoking, that makes breathing difficult
- Hemochromatosis, a condition in which iron accumulates in the body
- Lupus, an autoimmune disease
- Myocarditis, a condition in which the heart muscle is inflamed
- Type II diabetes
What Are the Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure?
- Irregular heartbeat
- Unusually rapid heartbeat, even when resting
- Shortness of breath, especially when lying down
- Dizziness or confusion
- Dry cough
- Water retention
How Is Congestive Heart Failure Diagnosed?
A variety of tests can determine whether a person has congestive heart failure. These include:
- Blood tests check for B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP), a heart hormone released into the blood when the heart is being overtaxed; red blood cell count; and live and thyroid function.
- Urine tests give indications of kidney function.
- An electrocardiogram (EKG), which records the heart’s rhythm and electrical activity.
- A chest x-ray will show enlargement of the heart, as well as a build-up of fluid in the lungs
- An echocardiogram, an ultrasound measurement of how much blood is being pumped with each beat of the heart, yields a called ejection fraction. The lower the measurement of ejection fraction, the worse the congestive heart failure.
- Cardiac MRI or CT scans allow visualization of the heart’s arteries and valves, as well as measure ejection fraction.
How Is Congestive Heart Failure Treated?
While the damage to the heart caused by CHF cannot be reversed, treatment is available to relieve symptoms, and keep the condition under control. The choice of treatment will be guided by the conditions that cause the heart failure.
Common medications for congestive heart failure include:
- ACE inhibitors, which relax the arteries, making it easier for blood to flow through the body.
- Beta-blockers, which improve the heart’s ability to pump blood.
- Diuretics, which relieve water retention. Diuretics will also relieve the shortness of breath caused by fluid in the lungs.
CHF does not always respond to medication, however. In some cases, surgery is required.
Common procedures for CHF include:
- Coronary artery bypass grafts (CABGs), in which healthy arteries are grafted to provide new pathways for blood flow.
- Heart valve surgery, which repairs damaged valves.
- Heart transplants are the treatment of last resort for CHF. A person may receive an implantable left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to keep their heart working while waiting for a new heart to become available. The LVAD requires the person to remain hospitalized until the transplant.
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