Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a chronic progressive disorder that occurs when the heart does not pump enough blood as it should to the rest of the body. This leads to a lack of oxygen and nutrients in the organs and extremities. CHF can be caused by chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and/or coronary artery disease and often involves swelling of the legs or feet. CHF typically progressively worsens over time. During CHF, the heart enlarges, builds more cardiac muscle, and pumps faster to accommodate the lack of power in each pump. CHF can involve one or both sides of the heart and can occur in adults and children. In some cases, CHF can lead to kidney failure. If you suspect you have CHF or are experiencing symptoms of CHF, seek medical attention immediately.
Congestive heart failure is caused by the stiffening of the ventricles within the heart, or the chambers of the heart that pump blood. CHF can sometimes be caused by the inability to completely fill the heart with blood before pumping. Risk factors for CHF include coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, faulty heart valves, heart damage (cardiomyopathy), inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), genetic/congenital heart defects, arrhythmias, chronic diseases (diabetes, HIV, thyroid disease, iron or protein buildup), heart attacks, certain medications (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, some hypertension medications, some diabetes medications, some cancer medications), sleep apnea, tobacco use, alcohol consumption, certain viruses, and obesity.
Symptoms of CHF include:
Shortness of breath
Swelling in legs, ankles, or feet
Rapid weight gain
Increased heart rate
Nausea and lack of appetite
Coughing white or bloody phlegm
Difficulty lying flat due to shortness of breath
To treat congestive heart failure, medical professionals often prescribe medication such as ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II inhibitors, beta-blockers, aldosterone antagonists, inotropes, digoxins, and angiotensin receptor neprilysin inhibitors. These medications often help blood flow more easily through the blood vessels and/or help the heart pump more efficiently. Procedures also may be performed, such as a coronary artery bypass graft, percutaneous coronary intervention, heart valve repair/replacement, pacemaker insertion, ventricular assist device insertion, heart transplant, or cardiac defibrillator implantation. Additionally, doctors may recommend lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, losing or maintaining weight, limiting fluid intake, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, managing stress, eating a heart healthy diet, participating in daily exercise, getting adequate rest, avoiding sodium, and treating underlying conditions.
To best help prevent congestive heart failure, one should avoid smoking, avoid alcohol consumption, control all chronic conditions (hypertension, diabetes, etc.) and take all prescription medications, see a doctor regularly and follow all treatment plans, maintain a healthy weight, participate in daily exercise and physical activity, reduce stress, avoid illegal drugs, and eat a heart healthy diet (see heart healthy diet on nutrition page).
American Heart Association. (2017, May 31). Heart failure. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-failure
Blumenthal, R. S., & Jones, S. R. (n.d.). Congestive heart failure: Prevention, treatment and research. John Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/congestive-heart-failure-prevention-treatment-and-research
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, May 29). Heart failure. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-failure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373142
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (n.d.). Heart failure. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-failure