Heart Disease Common Congestive Failure

A properly functioning heart acts as a strong pumping engine, circulating freshly oxygenated blood from the lungs to all systems of the body. Sometimes, however, damage, disease, injury or advancing age can weaken the heart, reducing its pumping force. When this happens, the blood circulation throughout the body may slow down and blood moving between the heart and lungs may become backed up. Blood and other fluid in the lungs may accumulate, and the systems of the body may suffer, as they’re deprived of oxygen and essential nutrients.

Since these congestions of fluid and the resulting complications can be traced back to the weakened pumping ability of the heart, this circumstance is known as congestive heart disease or congestive heart failure (CHF).

Congestive heart failure or congestive heart disease can take one of two forms:

  • Diastolic CHF occurs when the heart can’t expand properly and can’t draw an adequate supply of blood into the empty chambers.
  • Systolic CHF occurs when the heart can’t squeeze or contract strongly enough to force the blood to circulate.

In either case, the heart doesn’t necessarily stop pumping altogether. It simply weakens and struggles, stalling blood flow and oxygen delivery, causing fluid to accumulate in the lungs.

Congestive Heart Disease Symptoms

Symptoms of CHF may suggest chronic, ongoing congestive heart failure or an acute case that begins suddenly. If you experience one or more of the following symptoms, consult your doctor and ask about congestive heart failure, especially if your symptoms are intense and occur suddenly:

  • Chest pain
  • Pink-tinged mucus appearing when you cough (which may suggest fluid in the lungs)
  • Rapid, irregular or fluttering heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath upon exertion
  • Swollen legs, feet, ankles or abdomen
  • Weakness, fatigue or difficulty concentrating.

Diagnosing CHF

In order to diagnose CHF, a doctor may suggest an echocardiogram, an electrocardiogram, a chest X-ray or a stress test. She’ll also request a full medical history and ask if congestive heart failure runs in your family.

Treatment and Prevention

Several medications may treat underlying causes of congestive heart disease or help patients manage their symptoms. Some of these drugs strengthen the heart’s contracting ability or help the heart expand between contractions. Others aim to thin or otherwise alter the blood in order to make it easier for a weakened heart to circulate it. Surgery is sometimes required to open blocked arteries or replace damaged heart valves.

The best way to prevent congestive heart failure is to reduce associated risk factors, which may include:

  • Diabetes
  • Excess body weight
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Inactivity
  • Smoking.

Eating a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, reducing sodium intake and getting 30 to 60 minutes of exercise per day may help you manage your risk.

For more information on CHF, visit our expanded section on congestive heart failure.

Resources

American Heart Association. (2010). Congestive heart failure. Retrieved October 29, 2010, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/CongenitalHeartDefects/TheImpactofCongenitalHeartDefects/Congestive-Heart-Failure_UCM_307111_Article.jsp

Mayo Clinic. (2010). Heart failure basics. Retrieved October 29, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-failure/DS00061/DSECTION=prevention

Medline Plus. (2010). Heart failure. Retrieved October 29, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000158.htm