What is congestive heart failure, anyway?

Six million Americans are affected by congestive heart failure, and it is the leading cause of hospitalization in patients over age 65!

Congestive heart failure does NOT mean that the heart has stopped working.  It means that the heart’s function is not as good as it used to be.

The heart’s job is to pump blood throughout the body, but if the heart becomes weak, that becomes difficult.  When that happens, fluid can be retained in the ankles, feet, and the lungs.  When fluid is retained in the lungs, that is called congestive heart failure.

Causes of congestive heart failure can include coronary artery disease (blocked arteries), a heart attack, uncontrolled high blood pressure,  and damage to the heart muscle such as from  infection or very heavy alcohol consumption.

When fluid backs up on the lungs, a patient can find it difficult to exercise or lie flat in bed.

Heart failure is diagnosed by a history and physical examination, blood work, and sometimes a chest x-ray.  A special heart ultrasound called an echocardiogram can be used to measure the heart’s function.

Treatment for heart failure includes medications and lifestyle measures such as a low sodium diet.  Blood pressure should be closely controlled and monitored.  Patients with congestive heart failure should weigh themselves frequently to see if they are retaining fluid.

Survival rate of congestive heart failure is 50% at 5 years, and 15 percent at 10 years.  New medications and treatments are being investigated to increase the lifespan for these patients.

Chest x-ray showing extra fluid on the lungs of a congestive heart failure patient, the hazy white in the lung fields is the extra fluid:

chf

 

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