What is Congestive Heart Failure?

The heart is a powerful muscle that pumps blood through the body to deliver oxygen and nutrients and carry away waste. The lower chambers of the heart, called ventricles, are responsible for pumping blood to your body. But some conditions, like narrowed arteries or high blood pressure, can damage the heart over time and cause it to pump blood less effectively. 

Congestive heart failure, sometimes simply called heart failure, doesn’t mean your heart has stopped working. It means the heart has to work harder than it should.

What causes congestive heart failure?

If the heart muscle is too stiff, the ventricles can’t fill completely between beats. If the heart muscle is too weak, it can’t effectively pump blood through your blood vessels. In either situation, less blood gets pumped throughout your body.

When the kidneys don’t get enough blood pumped to them, they’re not able to filter as much fluid out of the body. This causes extra fluid to build up in the lungs, liver, around the eyes, and sometimes in the legs. The extra fluid is called “congestion,” which is where congestive heart failure gets its name.

Congestive heart failure can involve either the right or left ventricle or both, though it often starts on the left because that is the primary pumping chamber.

The following conditions can lead to congestive heart failure:

What are the symptoms?

Congestive heart failure is a chronic progressive condition, which means it gets worse over time if not properly treated. In the early stages, you may not notice any symptoms at all. As the condition progresses, the following symptoms may occur: 

  • Fatigue, weakness and dizziness
  • Swelling (edema) in your stomach, legs, ankles, and feet
  • Weight gain, which can lead to nausea or loss of appetite
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Congested lungs and coughing
  • Wheezing

Other symptoms could include an increased need to urinate at night, difficulty concentrating, decreased alertness, or a sudden severe shortness of breath.

Call 911 or go to an emergency room if you have chest pain, fainting or severe weakness, rapid irregular heartbeat along with shortness of breath, or sudden severe shortness of breath. If you experience other less severe symptoms of congestive heart failure, contact your doctor to schedule an appointment.

How is it treated?

Not all conditions leading to congestive heart failure can be reversed, but there are treatments that can lessen the overall symptoms. Treatment options will vary based on how much the condition has progressed and your overall health.

Diuretic medications, sometimes referred to as water pills, can help increase urination to reduce the buildup of extra fluid. A low-salt diet also helps the body reduce fluid retention. Additional medications can help relax the blood vessels or help the heart pump more effectively to improve blood flow to the body. 

As with many heart conditions, lifestyle changes can also help treat underlying conditions and reduce the chances of developing congestive heart failure. This includes exercising regularly, eating a healthy low-sodium diet, reducing or managing stress, losing weight, getting adequate sleep, and taking medications as prescribed.

If you are experiencing any symptoms of congestive heart failure, contact Oklahoma Heart Hospital today to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians.