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Cardiology 101: What is Congestive Heart Failure?

February 2, 2018
Published in: Fitness, Heart, Nutrition

Congestive Heart Failure can make even light exercise exhausting.

If you've been diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), you may be feeling apprehensive. CHF can be a scary and confusing diagnosis. It can be caused by genetics, high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, infections, or heart attack. The good news is Congestive Heart Failure doesn't have to be a death sentence. By altering your lifestyle to minimize the impact CHF has on your health you can take back control of your life instead of letting CHF define you.

What is Congestive Heart Failure

Visualization of Congestive Heart FailureYour heart's job is to pump old, oxygen-poor blood from your body and to the lungs for oxygenation, and circulate the newly enriched blood so that every cell in your body is supplied with life-giving oxygen. CHF is the inability of the left side of your heart to pump an adequate amount of blood. CHF causes the heart to weaken and makes it harder for the heart to pump all its blood forward, causing some of the blood to back up into the lungs. This results in your lungs becoming congested with fluid and blood and causes you to feel short of breath. As you attempt to engage in activities that cause exertion, the more oxygen your body requires, and the harder your heart struggles to supply it. This is why people with poorly controlled CHF sometimes have a poor tolerance for activity.

What are the Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure?

Sometimes the signs and symptoms of CHF are missed because these symptoms can be attributed to other health issues.

These symptoms include:

  • Frequent tiredness despite reduced activity
  • Shortness of breath with a minimum level of exertion
  • Unexplained weight gain—especially if one appears bloated
  • Cough without the presence of cold or infection
  • Traces of blood in the saliva when coughing

How is Congestive Heart Failure Treated?

CHF can make breathing difficultCHF is typically treated with a variety of medications. Your doctor will work closely with you to determine the perfect combination of medicines to help your heart function better. Some of the most common treatment options include:

  • Anticoagulants
  • Antiplatelet Agents
  • ACE Inhibitors
  • Beta Blockers
  • Calcium Channel Blockers
  • Statins
  • Digitalis Preparations
  • Diuretics
  • Vasodilators (Nitroglycerin)

CHF medications concentrate on preventing blood clots, controlling blood pressure, widening vessels, controlling heart contractions and arrhythmias, eliminating built up fluid, lowering cholesterol levels, and reducing the amount of oxygen the heart needs to function. Most people require a combination of these medications to effectively control their CHF.

Is it Possible to Prevent CHF from Progressing?

Yes, in most cases, it is possible to prevent CHF from progressing. In addition to taking your medications as prescribed, you can do the following:

  • Visit your Doctor Regularly – Keep regular appointments with your Primary Care Provider (PCP) and your Cardiologist. Congestive Heart Failure must be closely monitored and any issues corrected immediately.
  • Monitor your Weight – Weigh yourself daily and report weight gains of 3lbs. or more, your body could be retaining fluid.
  • Shed Excess Pounds – Even if you're only slightly overweight you need to lose any excess weight. Weight loss can help prevent further damage to your heart muscle and other organs. The larger you are, the harder your heart must work. Moderate weight loss can make a huge positive impact in managing CHF.
  • Exercise regularly – This can be a challenge when you have congestive heart failure, but increasing activity helps your heart get stronger. Don't overdo it; low impact exercise is excellent for managing CHF.
  • Restrict Fluids – You should avoid fluid overload by restricting your fluid intake. Excessive fluid makes your heart pump more, which can worsen CHF.
  • Reduce Salt Intake – Where there is salt, there is water. If you're consuming a lot of salt, it stands to reason that you'll be retaining fluid, which is extremely dangerous for your CHF.
  • Avoid Smoking at all Costs – Carbon monoxide found in cigarettes worsens your body's ability to oxygenate your blood which means you're actively starving your body of oxygen if you try to smoke and you have CHF.
  • Stay as Healthy as Possible – Staying up to date on vaccines and avoiding infection can lengthen your lifespan. It takes a lot of energy to fight off common illnesses, which will cause CHF to worsen.

If left untreated, Congestive Heart Failure can lead to damage of your other organs. Every organ in your body needs a regular supply of oxygen and nutrients to function properly. Your abdominal organs, lungs, kidneys, and liver must be regularly supplied with an adequate supply of oxygen-rich blood. If your heart can't cope with these demands because of CHF, your organs may begin to fail over time, which is why lifestyle changes and proper treatment is paramount for individuals diagnosed with CHF.

If you or a loved one is suffering from Congestive Heart Failure, the Cardiology Team at Augusta Health is here to help. Call us today to schedule an appointment to learn more about how we can help: (540) 245-7080.