Congestive Heart Failure

Do you know that about 5.1 million people suffer from heart failure every year in the United States? And about half of the people who suffer from this condition die within 5 years of diagnosis? Congestive heart failure or simply heart failure is a condition that occurs when your heart muscles stop pumping blood as well as they should. The root cause of this condition is some underlying conditions that leave your heart too stiff or weak to pump blood efficiently. Some of the conditions that cause heart failure cannot be reversed, but treatment can be used to help victims live longer. Read on to find out more about what causes congestive heart disorder and useful treatments.

What Is Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive heart failure, also known as chronic heart failure or congestive cardiac failure, is a condition that the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently in your body. The heart's main pumping chambers become thicker or larger, and hence can't relax or contract as they should. This leads to fluid retention in the lungs, abdomen, legs and other parts of the body.

Congestive heart failure can be caused by hypertension, coronary heart disease, cardiomyopathy and other heart diseases. The most common one is coronary heart disease which is usually accompanied by a history of heart attacks.

The following are the major causes of coronary heart disease:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diet rich in cholesterol and saturated fats
  • Diabetes
  • Physical inactivity

What's more, elderly people are more susceptible to chronic heart failure than younger ones. Whether one can survive under this condition depends on its severity.

Symptoms and Signs of Congestive Heart Failure

During the early stages, you are unlikely to experience any symptoms. However, the symptoms will start to manifest with time. You might experience the following:

Early Stages

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Swollen feet, legs and ankles
  • Frequent urge to urinate

Mid Stages

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Congested lungs that make you cough
  • Wheezing

Emergency/Late Stages

  • Sharp chest pain
  • Bluish skin
  • Raid breathing

Stages of Congestive Heart Failure

There are two groups of stages of this kind of heart failure. These stages have been advanced by the American College of Cardiology and the New York Heart Association.

According to the Progression of Heart Failure

Advanced by the American College of Cardiology, this group consists of the following stages:

  • ŸStage A: High risk stage where the patient exhibits one or more risk factor for heart failure.
  • ŸStage B (Asymptomatic heart failure): In this stage, patients are asymptomatic but have a dysfunctional or enlarged left ventricle.
  • ŸStage C (Symptomatic heart failure): Patients experience some symptoms of heart failure including fatigue, inability to exercise, shortness of breath, etc.
  • ŸStage D (Refractory end-stage heart failure): Patient experiences heart failure symptoms at rest even with medical treatment. Aggressive medical care is needed.

According to the Physical Limitations

Advanced by the New York Heart Association, this group of stages involves:

  • Class I: No symptoms exhibited with ordinary activities.
  • Class II: Symptoms start showing in ordinary activities.
  • Class III: Significant limitations and symptoms inmore activities including lessordinary activity.
  • Class IV: Extreme limitations with symptoms of congestive heart failure even at rest.

Treatments for Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure needs lifelong management. It will help you live longer and relieve the symptoms associated with it.

1. Medications

There are often some medications that are used together to treat heart failure.


How It Works

ACE(Angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors

ACE inhibitors are vasodilators that help those suffering from systolic heart failure feel better and live longer. They widen blood vessels, hence lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow. They also decrease the heart's workload. They include enalapril (Vasotec), captopril (Capoten) and lisinopril.

Angiotensin II receptor blockers

These blockers help the problem in the same way as ACE inhibitors. They are a great alternative for people who cannot tolerate ACE inhibitors. Examples include valsartan (Diovan) and losartan (Cozaar).

Beta blockers

Beta blockers reduce blood pressure and heart rate. They also limit or reverse some of the damage to the heart for those with systolic heart failure. Examples of beta blockers include bisoprolol (Zebeta), carvedilol (Coreg) and metoprolol (Lopressor).


Diuretics or water pills make users urinate more frequently. This keeps fluid from building up in the body. Furosemide (Lasix) is a diuretic that helps decrease fluid in the lungs and improve breathing.

Aldosterone antagonists

Aldosterone antagonists are potassium-sparing diuretics that have additional properties that help with severe systolic heart failure. Examples include eplerenone (Inspra) and spironolactone (Aldactone). These two can dangerously raise the potassium levels in your blood. Take them under the advice of your doctor.


Inotropes are intravenous medications used to treat severe heart failure. They improve the heart's pumping function and stabilize blood pressure.

Digoxin (Lanoxin)

Diagoxin or Lanoxin is a drug used to strengthen the contractions of the heart muscles. It also slows down the heartbeat and reduces symptoms of systolic heart failure.

2. Surgery and Medical Devices

Surgery and Medical Device

When It Is Needed

Coronary bypass surgery

If heart failure is as a result of severely blocked arteries, you need a coronary bypass to allow the free flow of blood through the heart.

Heart valve repair or replacement

When you have a faulty heart valve, the doctor can recommend replacing or repairing the valve. It is normally replaced with a prosthetic valve.

Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD)

The ICD is implanted into your chest when the heart starts beating at a dangerous rhythm or when it stops. It shocks the heart back to the normal rhythm.

Biventricular pacing or cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT)

Those, who have problems with their heart's electrical system, which can cause the heart to beat in an uncoordinated manner, can use a CRT to send impulses to the heart's chambers to stabilize the pumping.

Heart pumps

Heart pumps are used as an alternative to heart transplantation. They can extend the life of someone suffering from congestive heart failure.

Heart transplant

If medication and surgery do not help to resolve or control the diseased heart, heart transplant is the only option.

3. Lifestyle Changes

To prevent or control congestive heart failure, living with the following habits can be really helpful:

  • Sleep easy
  • Quit smoking
  • Consult with your doctor about weight monitoring and watch your weight carefully
  • Check for swelling in your ankles, feet and legs
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Limit salt intake
  • Get vaccinated
  • Limit cholesterol and fats
  • Limit fluids and alcohol
  • Be active
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