Congestive heart failure, or simply known as heart failure, is found in approximately 670,000 patients each year, affecting almost 6 million Americans today. In fact, CHF takes the lead as a cause of hospitalization in people aged 65 and older.
When a patient has heart failure, it doesn’t mean the heart has completely stopped beating. Rather, CHF is when the heart does not pump as strong as it used to. While it is a simple concept to understand, a lot of people usually have little clue what a heart failure truly implies. Here’s everything you need to know about this critical heart condition.
Congestive heart failure in a nutshell
Congestive heart failure is a long-term progressive condition that affects the way the heart muscles pump. The condition refers to a phase wherein fluid is building up around the heart, causing it to pump less efficiently.
Looking back at the heart’s anatomy, it is known to have four chambers, the upper half having two atria and the lower half having two ventricles. The ventricles are responsible for pumping blood into the body’s various organs and tissues while the atria are the ones that receive blood from the body and into the heart. When a person has CHF, the ventricles are not able to pump sufficient blood into the body, causing more blood and other fluids to back up into the lungs, liver, and sometimes in legs and feet.
Different causes of heart failure
Many disease processes possibly contribute to the inefficient pumping ability of the heart that leads to CHF. The most common causes of heart failure in the United States include a coronary artery disease, hypertension or high blood pressure, disorders affecting the heart valves, and even chronic alcohol abuse. In some cases, CHF can come from viral infections that stiffen the heart muscle, heart rhythm and thyroid disorders, and many others.
Patients suffering from heart disease may also eventually develop CHF when taking certain medications, especially those that cause sodium retention or those that affect the heart muscles. Such medications include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like naproxen and ibuprofen, type 2 diabetes medication, and some calcium channel blockers.
Common symptoms to watch out for
The patient may not manifest any symptoms during the early stages of heart failure. Gradually, certain body changes may appear once the condition progresses. Because there is fluid backup in the lungs, the patient may experience shortness of breath during activity or difficulty breathing when lying flat in bed. The lung congestion can also lead to wheezing or dry, hacking cough.
Meanwhile, the insufficient blood flow into the kidneys causes fluid retention, leading to swollen ankles and legs, known as edema. Weight gain and bloated stomach can also be noted. Aside from rapid or irregular heartbeats, the patient may be likely to feel dizzy and weak, as there is less blood distributed to the brain.
Diagnosing heart failure
CHF is diagnosed based on the patient’s physical exam, medical and family histories, and diagnostic test results. A common diagnostic procedure that may be requested is an electrocardiogram (ECG), which is a simple, non-invasive test that records electrical activity in the heart. Using ECG cables and sensors, the test is able to detect how fast the heart is beating and whether its rhythm is steady or irregular. Aside from an ECG, the patient may also undergo a chest X-ray, a Doppler ultrasound, or an echocardiography, to allow visualization of the heart. Meanwhile, the doctor may require a coronary angiography to better assess the blood flow to the heart.
With early diagnosis and treatment, patients with congestive heart failure can still live healthy, normal lives. If you are at high risk for such heart diseases, make sure to keep in touch with your doctor and be more conscious of your health.