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Essential Facts About Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Do you or someone you love suffer from Congestive Heart Failure or CHF? Is CHF the same thing as a heart attack? How is CHF treated? Get answers to these essential questions and more!

Every year, roughly 670,000 Americans are diagnosed with heart disease – that’s more than one a minute. In the time it takes you to read this article, half a dozen individuals will have experienced a major shift in their quality of life. Heart disease is the leading cause of hospitalization in people over 65, and the #1 killer of both men and women in the U.S. It’s more deadly than all forms of cancer combined, and while there are many different types of heart failure, congestive heart failure is particularly complex.

What is Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)?

Congestive heart failure (also known as CHF) is a chronic progressive condition that affects the pumping power of the heart muscles. In patients with CHF, fluid builds up around the heart, limiting its ability to pump efficiently. Left untreated, CHF can lead to serious health problems, even death.

How the heart works

A heart has four chambers – an upper half with two atria and a lower half with two ventricles. The ventricles pump blood to your organs and tissues, the atria receive blood as it circulates back from the rest of your body. In CHF patients, the ventricles can’t pump enough blood to the body. As a result, fluid builds up in the lungs, abdomen, liver, and other vital organs, causing the body to become “congested,” hence the name “congestive heart failure.”

What causes CHF?

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are 5 main things that can lead to heart failure.

Coronary artery disease and heart attack. When arteries narrow due to cholesterol and a buildup of plaque and fatty deposits, they can restrict blood flow to the heart. If a total blockage occurs, the resulting trauma is known as a heart attack and can leave the heart muscle in a weakened state, unable to perform efficiently.

High blood pressure (hypertension).In a patient with high blood pressure, the heart has to work harder to circulate blood throughout the body. Over time, the muscle may become too stiff or too weak to effectively pump blood.

Cardiomyopathy. In simple terms, cardiomyopathy is damage to the heart muscle. It has many causes including disease, infection, alcohol and drug abuse. Genetics can also play a role. The end result is inefficient blood flow from a muscle in a weakened state.

Valve conditions. Heart valves keep blood flowing in the proper direction. A damaged valve - due to a heart defect, coronary artery disease, or heart infection - forces the heart to work harder to keep blood flowing as it should. Over time, this extra work can weaken the heart, leading to CHF.

Other conditions. Other conditions, either from birth (such as congenital heart defects), contracted (such as HIV or myocarditis resulting from a virus), or developed over time (such as diabetes, hemochromatosis, or amyloidosis) can also lead to CHF. In essence, any condition which forces the heart to work harder to pump blood through the heart can lead to heart failure.

What are the symptoms of CHF?

What are the symptoms of CHF? What should you be looking for and how do you know if a patient might be suffering from this particular condition?

Well, the first thing to note is that the symptoms of heart failure exist on a spectrum that can run from mild to moderate to severe. Symptoms can come and go and worsen over time, making CHF difficult to diagnose, but here are some of the most common things to look for, according to the American Heart Association.

Signs and Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

By themselves, any one sign of heart failure may not be cause for alarm, but if a patient is exhibiting more than one of these symptoms, it’s important that they report them to a healthcare professional immediately and request an evaluation of the heart. 

Facts about CHF you need to know

Despite being such a prevalent condition, is still a lot of confusion about congestive heart failure. Heart Failure Matters, a website developed under the direction of the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology, tests your knowledge of some of the most common myths and facts. Can you identify which are which?

Heart failure means your heart has stopped beating.

MYTH: Heart failure does not mean your heart has stopped beating. Heart failure occurs when your heart muscle or valves have been damaged and your heart is not able to pump blood as efficiently as it should.

Heart failure can kill.

FACT: Heart failure is a very serious condition and can be fatal. However, by working with your doctor and medical practitioners you can get effective treatments and make changes to your lifestyle that will both ease your symptoms and prolong your life.

Heart failure is common.

FACT: Currently up to 14 million people in Europe (and nearly 6 million Americans) have heart failure and this number is rising all the time.

Heart failure cannot be treated.

MYTH: There are many treatments available for heart failure that are very effective at reducing symptoms and delaying the progression of the condition.

If you have heart failure you shouldn't exercise.

MYTH: It is very important for people with heart failure to exercise. However, it is also important to not overdo it. The right amount of exercise can help to improve blood flow and alleviate symptoms.

Heart failure is a normal consequence of getting old.

MYTH: Although most people with heart failure are elderly, heart failure is not necessarily a part of the aging process. In fact, CHF is a serious cardiovascular condition that can be prevented and greatly helped with available treatments.

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