Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure describes the gradual reduction in the ability of the heart to pump enough blood through the circulatory system. As the heart weakens, blood begins to back up into the heart, increasing blood pressure and forcing fluids into the body tissues. The condition has many causes, and the symptoms vary depending on the part of the heart that is affected. Clinical studies suggest that one in five people will develop congestive heart failure in their lifetimes. The outcome of treatment for congestive heart failure varies from person to person. With aggressive treatment and good care, people with congestive heart failure can live full lives.

Symptoms and Complications

The symptoms of congestive heart failure vary depending on which side of the heart is more affected by the congestion. However, these symptoms are common to all types of congestive heart failure:

* Tiring easily

* Becoming short of breath with little exertion

* Heart palpitations

* Feeling weak and dizzy

* Shortness of breath even at rest

* Swelling and fluid buildup (edema) in the lower legs, ankles and feet

* Weight gain

* Coughing or wheezing, especially when lying down

* More frequent urination at night

* Feeling bloated

Risk Factors and Causes

Congestive heart failure can be brought on by a number of different causes, and may have more than one cause. There are more than 100 causes of heart failure, including infections, exposures, toxic exposures and genetic predisposition. Some of the most prevalent causes include:

* Cardiomyopathy

* Toxic exposures, such as cocaine or alcohol

* Infections that affect the heart muscle

* High blood pressure

* Congenital heart disease

* Genetic heart diseases

* Heart valve problems

* Abnormal heart rhythm

The risk of developing congestive heart failure increases with age, but there are other risk factors as well. They include:

* Hypertension (high blood pressure)

* Physical inactivity

* Diabetes

* Obesity

* Family history of heart failure

* Metabolic syndrome

* Enlargement of the left ventricle

* Smoking

* Prior heart attack

* Radiation or chemotherapy exposure

* Excessive alcohol consumption

* Infection of the heart muscle

* High cholesterol

* Coronary artery disease


Congestive heart failure can usually be treated effectively with a combination of medication, diet and lifestyle changes and, if necessary, surgery. The main goal of treatment for congestive heart failure is to correct underlying causes, relieve symptoms and prevent worsening of the condition. The exact treatment followed depends on the underlying causes of the heart failure and the severity of the condition.

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