When people hear the term congestive heart failure (CHF), they think the heart has stopped functioning. This is not the case. Cardiac arrest is when the heart stops working. Congestive heart failure (CHF) is when the muscles of the heart cannot properly pump blood the way they are supposed to. CHF most often begins with the left pumping ventricle of the heart that is no longer able to do its job because the heart muscles have become too stiff or too overstretched. Congestive heart failure can also lead to kidney and liver problems and become life threatening. In fact, severe heart failure is one of the main reasons for needing a heart transplant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 5.7 million Americans are living with congestive heart failure. One in nine deaths in 2009 included heart failure as a contributing cause. About half of the people who develop heart failure die within 5 years of diagnosis. Heart failure costs the nation an estimated $30.7 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications to treat heart failure, and missed days of work.
Common Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
Some common symptoms of CHF are:
- Shortness of breath during daily activities.
- Having trouble breathing when lying down.
- Weight gain with swelling in the feet, legs, ankles, or stomach.
- Generally feeling tired or weak.
What Causes Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
- Coronary heart disease, heart attacks and coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD comes from a buildup of fatty plaque that leads to narrowing and congestion in the arteries. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood out of the heart to all the places in the body where blood is needed. CAD also causes damage to the valves of the heart.
- Chronic high blood pressure forces the heart to work too hard and eventually the heart muscles become worn out, weak and stiff.
- Chronic diseases like diabetes can lead to heart failure.
- Aging can weaken the heart and also many seniors over age 65 have other health problems. The National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute report that congestive heart failure is a leading cause of hospital stays among people on Medicare.
- Obesity causes the heart to work too hard and this can eventually lead to heart failure.
- Drugs, alcoholic drinks, smoking tobacco and certain medical drugs can damage the muscles of the heart (cardiomyopathy).
- Lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), blood clots in the lungs and other lung diseases make breathing very difficult and this puts an added strain on the heart, which can lead to heart failure.
- Heart muscles can be damaged from bacterial infections like strep.
- Cancer treatments like radiation and chemo therapy can damage the heart and lead to CHF.
- Too much Vitamin E can lead to CHF. Do not take on your own any supplements or vitamins without consulting with your doctor.
- Buildups in the blood of iron or protein can lead to heart failure. See our blog post from June 13, 2019 about Hemochromatosis a common genetic disorder that can cause too much iron to accumulate in all kinds of places in the body.
- Conditions that lead to abnormal heart beats (arrhythmias) like atrial fibrillation can also lead to heart failure. See our blog post from February 22, 2019 to read more about atrial fibrillation.
- Viral infections can cause inflammation of heart muscles (myocarditis) and this can lead to left-sided heart failure. This can also be from HIV.
- Congenital heart defects occur when a baby’s heart fails to develop properly before birth and this can lead to heart failure.
- Imbalance of the thyroid gland either too high (hyperthyroidism) or too low (hypothyroidism) can lead to abnormal heart beats (arrhythmias) that occur when the heart beats too fast (tachycardia) or too slowly.
- Severe allergic reactions like anaphylactic shock can cause blood pressure to drop too low or to zero and even cause the heart to stop beating, which can lead to death. Those who survive this can be left with heart damage that may eventually lead to heart failure.
- Sleep disorders like disruptive sleep apnea is a condition where a person stops breathing many times while they are sleeping. This disruption of breathing puts stress on the heart, which can eventually lead to heart failure.
Treatment for Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
There is no cure for CHF but it can be treated by taking prescribed medications, cutting down on too much table salt and being more physically active on a daily basis.
In some cases surgery to correct a problem like a damaged valve may be carried out, but in most cases congestive heart failure is a chronic disease. However, with the right medical treatment and lifestyle changes, the condition of the heart may improve and you may be able to live longer and better.
You must be under the care of a physician called a cardiologist who will prescribe medicines to help you live with CHF.
Lifestyle for Managing Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
- Quit smoking. Smoking is one of the main risk factors for damaging heart muscles.
- Stop drinking alcoholic beverages. Alcohol damages the heart.
- Keep your weight under control. Obesity puts a strain on the heart and makes it work harder.
- Follow a heart healthy diet. Eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Eat a lot of fish and less red meat. Avoid processed meats. Avoid fried greasy foods and junk food. Choose a heart healthy oil like extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) as your only oil. Scientific research has shown that EVOO is heart healthy.
- Get enough physical exercise. Do not spend hours sitting. If you work at a computer get up and walk around every 10 minutes.
- Manage diabetes by keeping your glucose levels under control.
- Try to find ways of coping with stress.
Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Care
Many people with CHF, especially if accompanied by other chronic diseases like diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) will need to have skilled long-term nursing care. The Royal Suites Healthcare and Rehabilitation is a beautiful 5-star rehab and skilled nursing care facility in scenic Galloway Township, New Jersey.
Heart failure has many causes, but with good medical treatment and following a heart healthy lifestyle, quality of life can be good and the lifespan can be extended.