Congestive heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition that occurs when a person’s heart muscle isn’t able to pump blood as well as it’s supposed to. It is the leading cause of hospitalization in those 65 years or older, and affects almost six million people in the US alone. When someone has heart failure, their heart is also unable to move enough oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. As a result, the kidneys often cause the body to retain salt and fluid, which then builds up in the feet, legs, ankles, arms, lungs, and/or other organs, causing the body to become congested – thus the name. Also referred to simply as heart failure, CHF can have a number of causes, some of which can be reversed, while others can only be treated.
What Causes Congestive Heart Failure?
Medical problems including coronary artery disease, arteries in the heart that have become too narrow, as well as high blood pressure, heart muscle disease, diabetes, kidney disease, heart defects, severe lung disease, sleep apnea, and/or obesity can gradually damage the heart muscles, slowly causing the heart itself to weaken or become too stiff to properly fill with and pump blood. In rare cases, the cause of CHF may also be severe anemia, an overactive thyroid, or abnormal heart rhythm.
What Are the Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure?
Symptoms of heart failure can be chronic, meaning they are ongoing, or acute, starting suddenly. These symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath during exertion or when lying down
- Difficulty exercising
- Feeling weak or fatigued
- Swollen stomach, legs, ankles, and/or feet
- Heartbeat that is too fast and/or not regular
- Long-term coughing or wheezing
- Pink or white blood-marked phlegm
- Increased desire to urinate, particularly at night
- Rapid gain in weight due to retaining fluid (such as pounds in days)
- Lessened appetite and/or nausea
- Decreased alertness or difficulty concentrating
A person should see a doctor immediately if they experience any of the following:
- Chest pain (which may indicate a heart attack)
- Severe weakness
- Sudden and/or severe shortness of breath
- Coughing up pink, foamy mucus
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat associated with any other of these symptoms
While any or all of these symptoms may indicate heart failure, they may also be symptoms of other conditions, including heart attack or life-threating lung conditions. It is essential for you to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis. For those who have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, some in-home health care options may be of help. For more information or to get help, contact Specialty Care Services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.