Congestive heart failure - What is it and how can you LIVE with it?

Have you been diagnosed with heart failure?

Also known as congestive heart failure because of the congestion of the tissues and lungs with fluid that results from it, it sounds terrifying and fatal, BUT it doesn't mean total failure of the heart.

It means the heart is unable to circulate enough blood to meet the body's requirements. Heart failure has various degrees of severity.

Causes

It can be caused by anything that impairs the heart's ability to pump effectively including

  • congenital heart disease
  • valvular disease
  • heart muscle disease such as from a heart attack or a virus

You can have these problems and not have heart failure, but if these problems prevent your heart from pumping enough blood to your body, you are said to have congestive heart failure.

According to the American Heart Association more than 5 million Americans are living with heart failure, and 550,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.

Symptoms of congestive heart failure

  • shortness of breath especially when lying down due to accumulation of fluid in the lungs
  • swelling from accumulation of fluid in the feet, legs, and trunk
  • fatigue - generally and upon exertion

With mild heart failure you may only experience symptoms when you are physically active.

With severe heart failure, you can have shortness of breath, pale skin, and blue lips, fingers, and toes at rest, and even more so when lying down.

It's a long-term condition that tends to worsen over time. Often, by the time a person is diagnosed, the heart has slowly been losing pumping capacity for quite a long time.

The body tries to make up for this by:

  • Enlarging the heart in an attempt to pump more blood.
  • Pumping the heart faster to increase output.

Our bodies try to compensate in other ways too. Blood vessels narrow to keep blood pressure up. The body diverts blood away from other organs to maintain flow to the heart and brain. These measures mask the problem of heart failure, but they don't solve it, and this helps explain why some people may not be aware of their condition until years after their heart begins its decline. It's also a good reason to have a regular checkup with your doctor.

Eventually the heart and body just can't keep up, and you will experience the fatigue, swelling, breathing problems, or other symptoms that indicate heart failure.
Source American Heart Association

How to live with congestive heart failure

Medication

  • ACE inhibitors expand your blood vessels in order to allow blood to flow freely and to take pressure off the heart
  • Beta Blockers improve how the left ventricle pumps
  • Diuretics help the body eliminate water build up

Your doctor may prescribe other drugs as well. If your doctor prescribes more than one heart failure drug, or if you are on other medications, ask whether combining them can cause complications. Be sure to take your medications as prescribed.

If you have high blood pressure, you will need treatment to lower it.

If your disease is due to a valve problem, surgery to replace or repair the valve may be required.

Note that surgery isn't often used to treat heart failure. It may be recommended when the doctor can identify a correctable problem that's causing heart failure — such as a defect or a blocked coronary artery. Surgery also may be needed when the heart failure is so severe that it can't be helped with medications or dietary and lifestyle changes.

Be sure to follow all of your doctor’s recommendations and make the necessary changes in your diet, exercise, and lifestyle.

As scary as it sounds, you CAN live with congestive heart failure.


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