Congestive Heart Failure
Heart failure rarely happens overnight. More often, the heart weakens over time, eventually reaching a point where it cannot pull in or pump out enough blood to fuel the rest of your body.
Common symptoms of congestive heart failure include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, especially during physical activity
- Swelling of legs, feet or ankles
- Fluid buildup in the lungs, liver, GI tract, arms or legs
- Chronic cough
- Fatigue and weakness
- Irregular or fast pulse
- Heart palpitations
- Unexplained rapid weight gain
- Trouble breathing at night
- Waking up with shortness of breath
While congestive heart failure is usually a chronic condition that builds up slowly, some symptoms might emerge gradually while others appear suddenly.
What Causes Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure can result from numerous different conditions. One common culprit is coronary artery disease, where blood vessels narrow because of plaque buildup or damage. Another frequent cause is high blood pressure, which can lead to artery damage and stiffness or weakening of the heart muscle.
Other causes of congestive heart failure include:
- Congenital heart disease (present at birth)
- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
- Narrow or leaky heart valves
- Weakened heart muscle due to infection
- Arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythm
- Diseases such as emphysema, severe anemia, amyloidosis or thyroid disorders
If you think you might be at risk of congestive heart failure, contact your physician for an echocardiogram and other diagnostic tests. After an initial exam, your doctor can monitor your symptoms and provide congestive heart failure treatment if necessary. When you talk to your doctor, discuss self-care strategies, such as eating a nutritious diet, exercising, getting enough sleep and maintaining a healthy weight.
Additional treatment could include medication to repair heart damage, prevent blood clots, improve cholesterol levels, clear out blood vessels and improve the heart’s ability to pump blood.