Congestive Heart Failure

Information About Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) Image

As we age, each of us experiences a decline in heart function. The heart is, after all, a muscle subject to the weakening that happens to most of our physical systems as we grow older. Heart disease has become the most common cause of death in both men and women.

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a frightening term that indicates that the heart’s decline has reached a point where it is no longer pumping well enough to supply the blood that the body needs for optimum health. Congestive heart failure is not a term that means that the heart has actually stopped functioning altogether.

The “Congestive” Part of CHF

In order to understand what the term “congestive heart failure” means, it helps to understand something about how the heart functions.

Basically, the heart has two jobs: taking oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumping it out to the rest of the body’s organs and tissues, and pumping oxygen-poor (or “dirty”) blood from the body and sending it on to the lungs to be replenished.

When the heart isn’t working properly, it is subject to two types of “failure.” The first is systolic, in which the heart is simply not strong enough to pump the blood with the force needed to get blood where it should go.

The second type of “failure” occurs when the heart muscle can’t relax enough to let the heart chambers fill up with blood in preparation for the next stage of its journey to the lungs or to the body’s organs and tissues. This is diastolic congestive heart failure.

The “congestive” part of the process occurs when the blood and fluids back up because the heart can’t keep up with its job.

Think of congestion this way: your stuffy nose, when fluids clog your sinuses, is a congestive condition. Another example is traffic backing up on the freeway. When the exits can’t handle the volume, the result is traffic congestion.

Similarly, fluids can back up in your lungs when the heart can’t fill with blood or pump it away fast enough. This is congestive heart failure of the type that causes the lungs to fill with fluid, a condition known as pulmonary edema.

Fluids can also back up in the body’s extremities when the heart can’t pump blood towards the lungs quickly enough. This fluid accumulation, most commonly seen as swollen tissue around the ankles, is called peripheral edema.

Did You Know?

One of the worst complications of heart disease is kidney failure. Talk to your doctor if you think you have some of the signs of congestive heart failure.

Facts About Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) in America

If your doctor has given you a diagnosis of congestive heart failure, don’t feel alone.

  • An estimated five million Americans suffer from congestive heart failure.
  • About 500,000 new cases of congestive heart failure are diagnosed each year.
  • Some 200,000 people have died of congestive heart failure in the past year.
  • Congestive heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization in America.
  • Congestive heart failure is more common in men than in women.

Living With Congestive Heart Failure

Although no cure yet exists for congestive heart failure, many people with CHF lead comfortable, rich lives with the help of treatment and lifestyle changes. Congestive heart failure is, however, the deadliest form of heart disease with the worst survival rates.

Prevention of congestive heart failure is an important goal.