In the United States, five million people are currently living with congestive heart failure. In fact, it’s the leading cause of hospitalization for people over 65.
When it comes to heart failure, the blood is moving through the heart and the body at a much slower rate than normal. This puts extra pressure on the heart, which in turn inhibits it from pumping enough oxygen-rich blood to the body. In short, the heart is not working as it should.
When faced with congestive heart failure, the human body will try to compensate –the chambers of the heart will stretch in order to hold more blood or become stiff and thickened. Both instances help keep the blood moving as efficiently as possible. However, this is just a temporary fix, as the walls of the heart muscle will eventually weaken and be unable to pump as efficiently as before.
But congestive heart failure doesn’t only affect the heart, as one would think by the name. This condition also affects the kidneys, as they’ll cause the body to retain water and salt. The fluid usually builds in the ankles, arms, feet, legs, lungs and other organs, which is why it is said that the body becomes “congested.”
What causes congestive heart failure? The most common causes are:
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Prolonged alcohol abuse
- Heart valve disorders
The symptoms for congestive heart failure range in severity. In some cases, symptoms will not appear, and in others they could be mild or severe and can be constant or come and go. The most common symptoms of congestive heart failure are:
- Changes in heart rate – Because the heart will be beating faster to try and pump enough blood throughout the body, a rapid or irregular heartbeat is common.
- Congested lungs – As mentioned before, congestive heart failure causes other parts of the body to become “congested” as well. A common sign of this condition is congestion in the lungs. In these instances, fluid will collect in the lungs, which in turn causes a shortness of breath during exercise or difficulty breathing when sedentary or lying flat. Symptoms of congested lungs include a dry, unproductive cough or wheezing.
- Dizziness, fatigue and loss of strength – Because less blood is flowing throughout the body to major organs and muscles, an overall sense of fatigue and loss of strength will be felt. Additionally, when less blood travels to the brain, dizziness and confusion can occur.
- Fluid and water retention – Swelling is a common sign of congestive heart failure. Because there’s less blood flowing to the kidneys, fluid and water retention will cause swollen ankles, legs and swelling in the abdomen (edema). Weight gain is also a symptom of fluid and water retention.
If you are exhibiting any of these symptoms or have a history of heart disease in your family, schedule an appointment with your cardiologist for a full screening.