Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure is a disorder resulting from any condition that prevents the heart from pumping enough blood to the body. It is often not possible to reverse the changes that lead to the disease but it is possible to slow down the progression.
Causes and Symptoms
Causes of heart failure include coronary artery disease (narrowing of arteries that feed the heart with blood), high blood pressure (forcing the heart to work harder), cardiomyopathy (where the heart muscle grows and becomes less efficient), myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), genetic heart defects affecting the structure of the heart, and abnormal heart rhythms (beating or electrical impulses that move through the heart muscle). Additional causes include smoking, obesity, stress, old age, and lack of exercise.
Heart failure is usually chronic and does not occur suddenly. Signs and symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, persistent cough or wheezing with blood-tinged phlegm, swelling in the lower legs or abdomen, nausea, sudden weight gain, and an irregular heart beat.
The types of heart failure can be classified in several different ways. They can be classified as right vs. left heart failure, whether the problem is due to the heart’s ability to contract or to relax, whether the problem has to do with the amount of blood pumped out, or whether it is due to high resistance to blood flow in the vessels. Evaluation by a physician is, therefore, very important in the management of the disease.
Treatment and Prognosis
Often the disease is caused by chronic injury to the heart and will therefore require lifelong therapy and monitoring. This is often done by prescribing a variety of medications that can alter the way in which the heart functions. Sometimes surgery is needed for management of the disease, and can include implantation of devices that monitor the heart rate and shock the heart if the rate becomes dangerous, devices that regularly give pulses to keep the heart beating in a good rhythm, and devices that help a weak heart pump blood to the body.
It is important to control risk factors for heart failure by doing things such as stopping smoking, losing weight, lowering blood pressure, and altering a diet. These will help slow the progression of the disease. The prognosis is poor when the patient reaches the later stages of heart failure, with about half of the people that suffer the disease surviving for at least five years.