Heart Failure

Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure (CHF), is a condition or a collection of symptoms in which the heart isn't pumping enough blood to meet the body's needs. Heart failure can develop suddenly, but it usually develops slowly after an injury to the heart. Some injuries may include a heart attack, too much strain on the heart due to years of untreated high blood pressure, or a diseased heart valve. Coronary artery disease, heart attack, diabetes, family history of heart disease, and cardiomyopathy are other risk factors for CHF. Sometimes CHF can affect only the right or left side of the heart; however, it more often affects both sides equally.

There are two types of CHF. When your heart cannot pump the blood out of your heart very well it is considered systolic heart failure. When your heart muscles are stiff and do not fill up with blood easily it is called diastolic heart failure. Both types mean there is not enough oxygen rich blood getting to your body, especially when you are active. As the heart's pumping action is lost, blood may back up in other areas of the body. Fluid builds up in the lungs, liver, gastrointestinal tract, and the arms and legs.

Heart failure symptoms aren’t always obvious, and some patients show no symptoms at all. Some common symptoms include shortness of breath, impaired memory, confusion, swelling of the feet and legs, lack of energy, increased urination at night, swollen abdomen, and difficulty sleeping due to shortness of breath.

Diagnosing CHF may require a doctor performing a physical examination and reviewing your medical history, family history, and lifestyle. Also, your doctor may order one or several diagnostic tests, depending on the patient, including echocardiogram, electrocardiogram, blood tests, chest x-ray, exercise test, or cardiac catheterization.

If you have heart failure, your doctor will monitor you closely. Knowing your body and the symptoms that your heart failure is getting worse will help you stay healthier and out of the hospital. At home, watch for changes in your heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, and weight. Weight gain, especially over a day or two, can be a sign that your body is holding onto extra fluid and your heart failure is getting worse. Talk to your doctor about what you should do if your weight goes up or if you develop more symptoms. Limit how much salt you eat. Your doctor may also ask you to limit how much fluid you drink during the day. Some methods of prevention are to stop smoking, stop drinking alcohol, reduce salt intake, and exercise.

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