Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition where the heart muscle does not pump as much blood to the body as it should. CHF may come on slowly or may suddenly appear (acute). There are many causes of CHF. In most cases, something has weakened or damaged the heart so that it either cannot pump blood out of the heart well or becomes stiff and cannot fill up with blood properly. In either case, the heart’s pumping is less effective and causes the buildup of fluid in the lungs, liver, GI tract (intestines and stomach), arms, and legs.
Symptoms of CHF vary but may include shortness of breath, coughing, white or bloody phlegm, and swelling (edema) of legs. Additional symptoms include an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), nausea, sudden weight gain, an inability to exercise, and fatigue. If the heart failure is being caused by a heart attack, chest pain may also be present.
Risk of CHF is increased in those with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, sleep apnea, many types of heart defects, diabetes, infections of the heart, severe anemia, over or underactive thyroid, sarcoidosis, high iron levels, or amyloidosis. Drinking alcohol in excess, smoking, and obesity can also increase this risk.
Diagnosis will include blood tests and stress and imaging tests to better see the heart, which include MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, or echocardiograms (ultrasound of the heart). An electrocardiogram (EKG) will check for heart arrhythmias. CHF is usually chronic (lifelong) and will require lifelong management. Treatments may include making healthy lifestyle changes and medications. Depending on the cause of the CHF, surgery or the implantation of medical devices may also be suggested. Research is ongoing, so talk to your cardiologist (heart doctor) about the most current treatment options. Support organizations are a good source of information and can help connect you to others living with CHF.