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Heart Failure

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Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure (CHF), is a common and serious condition that is usually due to weak heart muscle pumping.   Ineffective heart pumping function can cause swelling legs, fatigue, difficulty breathing  and trouble exercising.   Heart surgery, lifestyle changes, and medications can sometimes help with symptoms, but because many individuals with heart failure also have an arrhythmia, more help is needed to keep their hearts functioning properly.

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What is heart failure?


When the heart is weak so it cannot handle a healthy, normal volume of blood, heart failure will occur.



As blood travels to the heart from the lungs, blood may back up.   If fluid remains in the lungs, breathing becomes harder.   The accumulation of fluid is why the term is named “congestive heart failure.”


A heart that is “failing” has stretched or damaged muscle.   This damage often impairs the heart’s electrical system.   If this occurs, the heart may beat slowly, too fast, or in an irregular manner.


Symptoms of Heart Failure 


In the early stages of heart failure, people might not be aware of any symptoms.   As the condition progresses, one or more of the following symptoms often appear:


  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea):  A breathlessness feeling like you can’t get enough air, may arise during physical activity, and may even come about at rest.   It may wake you up and leave you exhausted in the morning, even after a night of sleep.  (It is advisable to prop yourself up with extra pillows to help you breathe easier at night.)
  • Fatigue:  Activities that weren’t strenuous to you before, like climbing stairs or walking, may easily tire you.   Further, you may even feel exhausted while resting, even when you haven’t been active.
  • Wheezing or chronic coughing:  Fluid congestion, a buildup of fluid in the lungs, is quite common with heart failure.   This congestion can make you cough and wheeze and cough up phlegm or mucous.
  • Swelling and fluid retention:  Fluid also can build up in other parts of your body, such as your abdomen, feet, legs and ankles.   Edema or swelling, is the obvious sign of fluid buildup, but weight gain may also be a signal.  This fluid buildup makes some people feel nauseated or lose their appetite.
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat:  The weakened heart sometimes beats faster in order to send more blood to your body.   This will feel like your heart is racing.   Heart failure may also trigger an arrhythmia, which can cause heart pounding, palpitations or other symptoms.
  • Confusion:  Impaired blood flow to your brain may cause mental sluggishness, feelings of confusion, or impaired thinking.


Risk Factors for Heart Failure


In some cases the heart becomes weakened for no apparent reason.  Other conditions that can damage the heart, can weaken the heart muscle and lead to heart failure such as:

  • A prior heart attack
  • Coronary artery disease (blood vessels that are clogged)
  • High blood pressure
  • A virus
  • Diabetes
  • Diseases of the valves or heart muscle
  • High blood pressure
  • An arrhythmia


Treating Heart Failure


Although heart failure is a progressive disease, treatment can improve quality of life, slow its progress, and reduce symptoms.   Treatment options can be the following:


  • Lifestyle changes and diet
  • Surgery to repair structural damage
  • Treatment of underlying causes, such as arrhythmias, clogged arteries, high blood pressure, and heart valve disease.
  • Medications
  • Implanted medical devices like Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT)
  • Heart transplantation
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