Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, is a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough oxygenated blood to meet the needs of the body's other organs. The heart keeps pumping, but not as efficiently as a healthy heart.
Heart failure may result from any or all of the following:
- Heart valve disease caused by past rheumatic fever or other infections
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Active infections of the heart valves and/or heart muscle (for example, endocarditis or myocarditis)
- Previous heart attack(s) (myocardial infarction)
- Coronary artery disease (narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle)
- Cardiomyopathy or another primary disease of the heart muscle
- Congenital heart disease or defects (present at birth)
- Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
- Chronic lung disease and pulmonary embolism
- Certain medications
- Excessive sodium (salt) intake
- Anemia and excessive blood loss
- Complications of diabetes
Heart failure interferes with the kidney's normal function of eliminating excess sodium and waste products from the body. In congestive heart failure, the body retains more fluid, resulting in swelling of the ankles and legs. Fluid also collects in the lungs, which can cause profound shortness of breath.
The following are the most common symptoms of heart failure. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.
Symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath during rest, exercise, or while lying flat
- Weight gain
- Visible swelling of the legs and ankles (due to a buildup of fluid), and occasionally, swelling of the abdomen
- Fatigue and weakness
- Loss of appetite, nausea, and abdominal pain
- Persistent cough that can cause blood-tinged sputum
The severity of the condition and symptoms depends on how much of the heart's pumping capacity has been compromised. The symptoms of heart failure may resemble other conditions or medical problems.
The cause of the heart failure will dictate the treatment protocol established. If the heart failure is caused by a valve disorder, then surgery may be performed. If the heart failure is caused by a disease, such as anemia, then the underlying disease will be treated.
Although there is no cure for heart failure due to damaged heart muscle, many forms of treatment have been used to treat symptoms very effectively.
Treatment of heart failure may include controlling risk factors such as:
- Quitting smoking
- Losing weight (if overweight) and increasing moderate exercise
- Restricting salt from your diet
- Avoiding alcohol
- Getting proper rest
- Controlling blood sugar if diabetic
- Controlling blood pressure
- Limiting fluids