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Congestive Heart Failure
Overview

Your heart beats approximately 100,000 times per day and pushes around 2,000 gallons of blood through all of your vessels. In congestive heart failure or CHF, your body loses the ability to perform this function effectively and health complications develop. This article will help you understand congestive heart failure and how it is managed.

What Is Congestive Heart Failure?

What Is Congestive Heart Failure?
Congestive heart failure is when the heart loses the ability to pump blood effectively. To understand why this is a problem, it’s important to recognize the function of the circulatory system. This system is comprised of the heart and all the blood vessels in the body. The left side of the heart pumps oxygenated blood into the arteries, which become progressively smaller and subsequently supply the body’s organs with oxygenated blood. After the organs extract oxygen from the blood, deoxygenated blood passes into the veins, which lead to the right side of the heart. The right heart then pumps the blood into the lungs where it can become oxygenated. This oxygen rich blood passes into the left heart where the cycle repeats itself. When the heart fails to pump, blood can back up and accumulate in one or more parts of the circulatory system.
There are a few different types of congestive heart failure:
Left-Sided Heart Failure. This leads to increased fluid in the lungs.
Right-Sided Heart Failure. This leads to increased fluid in veins.
Systolic Heart Failure. Left ventricle loses the ability to pump properly.
Diastolic Heart Failure. Left ventricle loses the ability to completely fill with blood.
Regardless of the type of heart failure, the heart will try to compensate with the following:
Increase in Size. Because the heart is not pumping as well as it should, blood can accumulate within the heart caused it to become stretched.
Getting Stronger. During the initial phase of stretching, the heart actually pumps stronger. Eventually, when the heart muscle is stretched beyond a certain point, weakening occurs.
Getting Faster. Because your heart cannot pump effectively with each beat, it tries to beat more to do the job. This results in an increased heart rate.
The heart eventually cannot keep up with the workload and compensation fails, at which point symptoms begin to set in.

Symptoms Of Congestive Heart Failure

Symptoms Of Congestive Heart Failure
The symptoms of congestive heart failure include:

Shortness of breath (with exertion or when sleeping)
Moist cough
Feeling dizzy
Appetite loss
Swelling in the lower extremities
Weight gain
Swelling in the abdomen
Fast pulse rate
Getting up to urinate during the night

What Causes Congestive Heart Failure?

What Causes Congestive Heart Failure?
Congestive heart failure can be caused by a number of circulatory conditions. Causes can be congenital from birth, due to lifestyle choices, or even infections. These include:
Hypertension. High blood pressure in the arteries makes your heart have to work harder to pump blood into them. Over time, your heart muscle grows but gets weaker.
Coronary Artery Disease. Deposits formed from fat and plaque cause the coronary arteries (these arteries supply oxygen to the heart muscle) to become narrow. This is known as “atherosclerosis” and decreases the supply of oxygen to the heart. Without oxygen, the heart muscle fails overtime. A sudden complete blockage of the coronary arteries causes a heart attack, resulting in death of some of the heart muscle, which can also lead to failure.
Congenital Defects. Certain birth defects to the heart can lead to congestive heart failure. If a key part of the heart is not formed properly, the other parts of the heart need to compensate for the defect. This can weaken the heart over time.
Cardiomyopathy and Myocarditis. In myocarditis, infections can cause the heart to become inflamed and damaged. Alcohol use, drug use, some prescription treatments, and some genetic conditions can disrupt the architecture of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy). Both of these can lead to heart failure.
Chronic Health Conditions. Certain health conditions can weaken the heart muscle. These include thyroid disease, HIV, hemochromatosis (iron buildup), and diabetes.
Heart Valve Issues. If you have a heart valve that does not work properly, the heart may not be able to force blood where it needs to go. The good news is heart valves can be repaired or replaced.
Arrhythmia. When you have an arrhythmia, your heart feels like it is beating faster or slower than normal. Abnormal heartbeats can cause your heart to be weaker, leading to congestive heart failure.

Risk Factors For Congestive Heart Failure

Risk Factors For Congestive Heart Failure
The most common risk factors for congestive heart failure include:

Age. As you get older, you are at increased risk for CHF. It tends to occur more often in people over 65.
Gender. CHF tends to be more common in men. Women are at higher risk for diastolic heart failure.
Ethnic Group. CHF is more common in the African-American population and often occurs before the age of 50 years. They are more likely to die from the condition than Caucasians.
Genetics. If you have a history of congestive heart failure in the family, you are at increased risk. The genetic component is still being researched in an effort to identify which genes cause the disease.
Lifestyle. If you smoke, don’t exercise, drink alcohol, or use street drugs, the risk of CHF is considerably higher.
Overweight. Being overweight puts excess strain on the heart and is a risk factor for CHF. Also, people who are overweight are at higher risk for hypertension and diabetes, which also increase the risk for congestive heart failure.
Diabetes. Diabetics are at increased risk for CHF because of the damage high blood sugar causes to the circulatory system. Certain diabetic medications can also damage the heart function.

Medications. Certain medications taken long-term can raise the risk of CHF. These include steroids, anti-fungal medications, and certain drugs used for the treatment of cancer.

Diagnosing Congestive Heart Failure

Diagnosing Congestive Heart Failure
The following tests can help with diagnosis:

Blood Tests. The doctor will check to see how well your kidneys, liver, and thyroid work. They will also run a test called a BNP (B-Natriuretic Peptide) that can indicate heart failure.
Electrocardiogram. An electrocardiogram can indicate any heart rhythm issues or history of heart attack.
Chest X-Ray. Chest x-rays can show an enlarged heart or fluid in the lungs.This test can show the actual chambers of the heart filling and emptying blood. It can also diagnose any valve issues or other problems that may be causing your symptoms, especially congenital defects in the heart muscle.
Treadmill Stress Testing. The doctor may have you exercise to see how your heart functions when it is working harder. For people who cannot walk, there is an injectable drug that causes your heart to beat faster, mimicking the effect of exercise.
Cardiac CT Scan or MRI. These are scans that can take accurate pictures of the heart tissue to help detect abnormalities. The doctor places a catheter into your groin or arm and injects dye. This travels into the arteries and veins. The doctor takes a special x-ray and can see any blockages in the circulatory system. During this test, the doctor can also perform a angioplasty which involves opening up any blocked vessels that may be seen.
Congestive Heart Failure Classifications
If you are diagnosed with CHF, the doctor will classify the disease in order to come up with the best treatment plan. The classifications are:
Class I. During this stage, you may be able to do plenty of physical activity without feeling out of breath. With good lifestyle changes (quitting smoking, abstaining from alcohol, dietary changes), and treating high blood pressure the disease is very manageable.
Class II. At the stage II point, physical activity becomes limited. There is some fatigue and shortness of breath with exercise.
Class III. Physical activity becomes severely limited at this point and any activity may cause you to feel out of breath. You do feel better at rest.
Class IV. This is the most severe stage and you may feel tired and out of breath even at rest.

Treatments For Congestive Heart Failure

Treatments For Congestive Heart Failure
Medications
ACE (angiotensin-converting enzymes) Inhibitors. Ace inhibitors open up blood vessels to bring blood pressure down and help make blood flow easier through veins and arteries. This helps take some of the strain off the heart muscle.
Beta Blockers. Beta blockers can help slow down your heart if it is beating too fast. They can also treat high blood pressure and help reduce damage to your heart.
Diuretic Therapy. Diuretics help remove excess fluids out of body tissues. They do make you go to the bathroom more often. One benefit is they help remove the fluid from your lungs and reduce shortness of breath and coughing.
Digitalis. These medications increase the force of heart contractions. It also can slow down the rate at which your heart beats. People on these medications need to be monitored for toxicity.
Inotropes. If you are suffering from heart failure that is not responding to oral medications, you may need to be hospitalized. Inotropes are given intravenously to help the heart pump more effectively.
Medical Procedures
If you are unresponsive to medications or the cause of your heart failure can be corrected with a procedure or device, there are a few things your doctor can do:
Angioplasty. This procedure is very similar to an angiogram and can be done at the same time. A catheter is passed through the groin or arm and a balloon attached to the tip is inflated within the narrowed part of the artery. Often times a metallic mesh (stent) is inserted to help keep the newly widened vessel patent. This procedure is used when the cause of a failing heart is a blocked vessel.
Coronary Bypass Grafting (CABG). If several vessels in the heart become critically blocked, angioplasty may not be an option and surgery will be required. During a CABG, a cardiac surgeon may be able to replace the blocked arteries with blood vessels harvested from elsewhere in the body.
Valve Repair or Replacement. If you have a bad heart valve, the doctor can try to repair or replace it. Heart valve repair is known as “valvuloplasty” and helps the blood to flow out properly. If surgeons cannot repair the valve, they may replace it with a prosthetic valve.
Pacemakers. Surgeons can implant a pacemaker to help correct abnormal heart rhythms. These include implantable defibrillators (ICD) and cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT). ICD’s can keep the heart at a more normal rhythm, while a CRT works directly on the ventricle to keep it pumping in sync with the heartbeat.
Ventricular Assisted Devices. VAD’s are implanted near the heart and help pump the blood.
Heart Transplant. In severe heart failure, you may be eligible for a heart transplant. There is usually a waiting list for a new heart. Your doctor will try to keep you as healthy as possible with medications while you wait.

Lifestyle Changes & Prevention of Congestive Heart Failure

Lifestyle Changes and Prevention
In order to help prevent CHF, any risk factors need to be treated and managed. These include:

Diabetic blood sugar control
Quitting smoking
Restricting alcohol use
Eating a healthy low-salt and low-fat diet
Keeping weight in a healthy range
Treating high blood pressure and heart disease
If you are diagnosed with CHF, the following lifestyle modifications can reduce heart damage and slow the progression of the disease:
Monitor any Changes in your Weight. Weigh yourself daily and report a weight gain of 2 to 3 pounds to your physician. This can mean you are retaining too much fluid.
Try to Restrict Sodium Intake. Read your food labels and eat as low-salt as possible.
Exercise if it is Okay with your Doctor. It is believed that exercise is good if you only have a mild case of CHF.
Rest when your Body Tells you to. If you start to feel out of breath or tired, rest with your head and chest elevated.
Reduce Stress. Learn relaxation techniques and reduce anxiety. This can help reduce the strain on your heart.

Alternative Medicines For Congestive Heart Failure

Alternative Medicines For Congestive Heart Failure
With your doctor’s approval, the following alternative medicine supplements may be helpful for congestive heart failure:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Fish oil supplements contain Omega-3 fatty acids that may improve cardiac health. However, they may not be safe for everyone so it’s important to discuss with your doctor.
Co-Q10. There has been some small amount of research on this supplement and it is thought to be helpful with heart failure. It isn’t recommended that vitamin E be taken in combination with Coenzyme Q-10 because vitamin E may make heart failure worse.

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