Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) is When the Heart Muscles Work in a Weakened Way

February is American Heart Month to raise awareness of heart disease, which is the number one leading cause of death in the United States.

When people hear about congestive heart failure (CHF) they think that this means the heart is no longer able to pump blood and can no longer work. However, the heart still can function, but in a more limited way. The heart is mainly made up of muscle and beats 24/7 whether the person is awake or asleep. However, certain conditions can damage the ventricles of the heart, so it can no longer function the way it is supposed to. Heart failure can be life threatening and may lead to the need for a heart transplant. CHF can also lead to liver and kidney damage. According to the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute (NHBLI), about 5.7 million people in the United States have CHF.

Causes of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

  • The most common cause of CHF is coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD causes a buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries that causes narrowing and congestion.
  • Hypertension (chronic high blood pressure) forces the heart to over-exert itself and eventually it becomes stiff or weak.
  • Cardiomyopathy (damage to the muscles of the heart) can be caused by infections, drugs, smoking, alcohol, certain medicines and genes.
  • Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) is usually from an infection by a virus that can lead to left-sided heart failure.
  • Congenital heart defects occur when the infant’s head did not develop properly before birth and this can lead to heart failure.
  • Arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats) occur when the heart beats too fast (tachycardia) or too slowly.
  • Chronic illnesses like diabetes or AIDs.
  • Imbalance of the thyroid gland either too high (hyperthyroid) or too low (hypothyroid).
  • Abnormal buildup of protein or minerals like iron in the heart
  • Obesity causes the heart to work harder and may eventually lead to CHF.
  • Viral or bacterial infections can cause damage to the heart and lead to CHF.
  • Allergic reactions can cause damage to the heart. For instance anaphylactic shock can cause a sudden severe drop in blood pressure. If it goes to zero the heart stops beating and this can lead to death. Immediate medical attention is needed to save the life of someone with anaphylaxis. However, the person can suffer heart damage as a result of anaphylaxis.
  • Lung diseases and blood clots in the lungs can lead to heart failure. Lung diseases make breathing difficult and this puts a strain on the heart which can damage it.
  • Disruptive sleep apnea occurs during sleep when a person stops breathing periodically and this weakens the heart.

Symptoms of Heart Failure

Many of these symptoms can be from other causes so it is important to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis:

  • Being short of breath (dyspnea) not only when working but also when resting.
  • Feeling weak and fatigued
  • Swollen ankles, legs and feet (edema)
  • Fast heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Physical exercise is difficult.
  • Cough and/or wheezing with white or blood-tinged phlegm
  • Frequent urination at night that leads to waking up a lot
  • Swelling of the abdomen that may be from ascites (more than 25 ml. of fluid in the peritoneal cavity).
  • Sudden weight gain from water retention
  • No appetite (anorexia)
  • Nausea
  • Less alert and difficulties in concentrating
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling unable to breathe and coughing that leads to choking and bringing up blood-tinged sputum

Kinds of Heart Failure

Left-sided heart failure can cause the lungs to fill up with fluid and leads to shortness of breath.

Right-sided heart failure can lead to fluid getting backed up into the feet, ankles, legs and abdomen.

Systolic heart failure results when the left ventricle cannot properly pump the heart.

Treatment for CHF

CHF cannot be cured, but lifestyle changes may help to prolong life.

  • Quit smoking
  • Cut down on drinking alcoholic drinks
  • Lose weight
  • Get enough physical exercise
  • Eat heart healthy foods and follow a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, whole grains and more fish and less red meat.
  • Learn how to manage stress

CHF May Lead to the Need for Long-term Skilled Nursing Care

The Park Crescent Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in East Orange, New Jersey offers skilled long-term nursing care at its best. They also offer fine nutritious and healthy dining, a wealth of recreational activities and a warm and caring staff.


Heart failure cannot be cured, but with good medical treatment and following a heart healthy lifestyle the quality of life can be good and life can be prolonged.

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