Congestive Heart Failure: Information on Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) identifies as a condition where the heart is unable to maintain its workload and might not supply the body with the sufficient oxygen levels it requires. Specifically, when the condition is present, the heart is not pumping as it should. When heart failure becomes congested, it requires the individual to seek prompt medical attention.
For survival, continuous oxygen delivered through nutrient-rich blood pumped by the heart nourishes the body’s cells. Alternatively, any form of heart failure that weakens the organ can diminish the supply of oxygen due to inadequate levels of blood. The failure often produces ongoing shortness of breath, fatigue, and coughing. An individual with heart failure might struggle performing everyday activities including lifting, walking, moving, or climbing stairs.
Congestive heart failure is a very serious condition with limited options for treatment or a cure. However, with proper management of heart failure, individuals with the condition can enjoy life by making healthy changes.
A Healthy Functioning Heart
Under normal conditions, individuals with a healthy heart will have nutrient-rich blood pumped by the heart through the circulatory system. Oxygen-depleted blood enters the right atrium after traveling through the body. As blood passes into the right ventricle, it is sent out to the lungs to become oxygenated. This now oxygen-rich blood leaves the lungs and enters the left atrium through the left ventricle, and that is pumped out to the cells of the body.
The heart must beat in an organized rhythm to pump effectively. If the rhythm loses its sequence, it can affect all the body’s tissues negatively.
Defining Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure is considered a progressive, chronic condition where the heart muscle can no longer pump sufficient levels of blood to meet the needs of the body. Heart failure can be experienced on the right side, left side, or both sides of the heart. Typically, the individual will experience left-sided heart failure first. At the first signs of heart failure, the body will attempt to maximize the workload by one of five ways including:
- Heart Enlarging – the home heart muscle will begin to stretch and contract intensely to keep up with the body’s demand for more oxygenated blood. However, over time, this intense activity enlarges the heart.
- Development of More Heart Muscle Mass – a significant increase in the heart muscle mass develops from the contracting cells that make the heart bigger. The increased muscle mass can produce a stronger heart pump, at least at first.
- Increased Pumping Rhythm – By pumping the heart faster, the body can increase the output of oxygenated blood.
- Blood Vessel Narrowing – The body compensates for congestive heart failure by narrowing the blood vessels to increase blood pressure and to make up for the loss of power of a malfunctioning heart.
- Diverting Blood – The body’s ability to divert blood from less important organs and tissues including the brain, heart, and kidneys is the last method of improving blood flow delivery.
While these measures can be effective at masking some of the significant issues involved with congestive heart failure, the results are often temporary. Over time, the condition can become significantly worse until the body’s ability to overcome the problem no longer works.
In time, the body and heart lose their ability to keep up. At this point, the individual typically experiences significant breathing problems, fatigue, or other serious symptoms that will require an appointment with a heart doctor. Even so, because of the body’s mechanisms to compensate for the problem, many individuals are not aware that they suffer from congestive heart failure until many years after it has begun. Because of that, it is crucial to have routine checkups at least annually.
Heart Failure Causes
Typically, the failure is the result of a weakened or damaged heart. Even so, heart failure does not need to be caused by weakness. It can also occur if the tissues inside the heart become too stiff. Any number of the following conditions can weaken or damage the heart muscle and lead to heart failure. Many individuals are unaware that these conditions exist until there is a significant decline in health.
The most common conditions that cause heart failure involve:
- Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and Heart Attack – These conditions are often the most common forms of heart disease that lead to heart failure. Coronary artery disease is often the result of a buildup of fatty plaque (deposits) in the arteries that restrict blood flow that is associated with heart attacks.
- Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) – When the body’s blood pressure elevates, the heart must work significantly harder to circulate blood throughout the body. In time, extreme exertion can stiffen the heart muscle, making it weak and ineffective at pumping blood.
- Faulty Heart Valve – the heart valves create the development of blood flow in the correct direction from the heart out to the body. As the valve becomes damaged due to a defect, infection, or coronary artery disease, the muscle must work significantly harder, making it weaken over time.
- Cardiomyopathy (Heart Muscle Damage) – Any damage to the heart muscle can create immediate and often life-threatening problems. Many factors could damage the heart, including infection, disease, medication toxicity, alcohol abuse, and drugs used for chemotherapy. Genetics may also be a significant factor leading to cardiomyopathy.
- Myocarditis – Heart muscle inflammation (myocarditis) can develop from a virus and result in heart failure on the left side.
- Congenital Heart Defect – Malformation of the heart valves or chambers might occur through a congenital disability (you are born with it) where the heart must pump harder to move blood through the muscle, that in turn can result in heart failure.
- Heart Arrhythmia (Abnormal Heart Rhythm) – An abnormal rhythm to the beat of the heart can cause it to pump too fast and create difficulty in heart flow. That said, slow heartbeats also cause heart problems including failure.
- Disease – Many diseases, including hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, HIV, diabetes, hemochromatosis (excessive iron buildup), or amyloidosis (excessive protein levels) can contribute to heart failure.
Associated Risk Factors
Are you at risk of developing congestive heart failure? One risk factor listed below might not be sufficient to result in heart failure. However, a combination of two or more of the problems listed below can significantly increase your risk. These risk factors involve:
- High Blood Pressure – The heart must beat significantly harder when blood pressure is elevated.
- Coronary Heart Disease – When the heart struggles, the body can narrow the arteries that over time weaken the heart muscle and restrict the oxygen-rich blood supply to tissues and organs.
- Heart Attack – A sudden onset of coronary disease can cause significant heart muscle damage where the muscle is no longer able to pump sufficiently.
- Diabetes – This condition can significantly elevate high blood pressure and cause coronary artery disease.
- Diabetic Medications – Medications used to treat diabetes are known to elevate the risk of heart failure in many individuals. However, before stopping the medications, seek out the advice of your doctor to make any necessary changes.
- Other Drugs – Many medications can cause heart failure and increase heart problems. Some of these drugs include anti-inflammatory medications, anesthesia drugs, antiarrhythmic drugs, and drugs used to treat cancer, high blood pressure such as Valsartan, neurological conditions, blood conditions, psychiatric problems, lung conditions, inflammation, and urological conditions. However, before stopping the medications, seek out the advice of your physician to make any necessary changes.
- Sleep Apnea – Breathing problems at night while sleeping can lower blood oxygen levels and elevate the risk of abnormal heart rhythms.
- Vascular Heart Disease – This condition can cause a significantly higher risk of heart failure.
- Other Factors – Other conditions including viral infection, obesity, irregular heartbeat, as well as personal decisions involving alcohol or tobacco use can significantly increase the risk of heart failure.
Diagnosing and Treating Congestive Heart Failure
Your doctor has many tools for diagnosing congestive heart failure by assessing the heart rate, rhythm, blood flow, and the size of the ventricles. Some of these tests involve electrocardiograms, x-rays, and using a stethoscope to listen to the lungs.
Typically, the treatment of congestive heart failure would depend on the severity of the condition. The doctor will often instruct the patient to reduce the amount of salt intake, fluid intake, and prescription medication intake. The patient might also use an implanted pacemaker or defibrillator. Self-care involves quitting smoking, increasing physical exercise, and losing weight.