Congestive heart failure, otherwise known as CHF, is a condition in which the heart function is inadequate. The function of the heart is to pump and deliver oxygen contained in the blood to the remainder of the body. When individuals suffer from congestive heart failure the strength of the heart muscle has been compromised and they are no longer able to pump blood effectively and efficiently around the body.
In order to have a good understanding of congestive heart failure it helps to know how the heart works. The heart is broken up into four separate chambers, each of which has its own objective and function. When the heart beats the two lower chambers contract first and the two upper chambers contract second. The chambers on the top are called atriums in the heart have a left atrium and a right atrium. The ventricles, both left and right, make up the lower chambers of the heart.
The ventricles are the most muscular chambers and pump the blood when the muscle contracts either out to the body or to the lungs to pick up oxygen. Congestive heart failure is also sometimes called heart failure and is a more descriptive term for the condition. The failing heart continues to work and pump but not efficiently and not effectively. For this reason people who suffer from congestive heart failure cannot exert themselves because they lack oxygen to the tissue and therefore become short of breath and tire easily.
As the blood flow out of the heart slows down, the blood that returns to the heart through the veins will back up and cause congestion in the tissues and lungs. Edema or swelling will result. Some people with congestive heart failure will suffer from swelling in the legs and ankles but it can also happen in other parts of the body. Some individuals with congestive heart failure will suffer from pulmonary edema, or swelling in the lungs which causes shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and an inability to lie down flat.
Heart failure affects not only the lungs and the ability of an individual to walk for long distances, but will also affect the kidney. The kidneys are highly vascular organs and require a significant amount of oxygen in order to continue functioning because of the high demands placed on them. Congestive heart failure will affect the ability of the kidney to filter out toxins and away from the body, including sodium and water. The water that is retained in the body contributes to the increase in edema or swelling.
Congestive heart failure can result from narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle itself, also called coronary artery disease. Any past heart attacks will interfere with the heart muscles normal ability to work, as well is high blood pressure or heart disease, can also cause or results in congestive heart failure. If an individual suffers from primary disease of the heart muscle itself, called cardiomyopathy, or a heart defect which may be present at birth, can place an increased workload on the heart muscle and eventually lead to congestive heart failure. Individuals who suffer from infection of the heart cells or heart muscle, called endocarditis or myocarditis, will also find that their heart muscle has weakened with injury and will result in congestive heart failure.
Hypertension or high blood pressure will also contribute to the workload of the heart and results in an overworked and overstressed heart muscle. High blood pressure can contribute to heart attacks but more frequently will contribute to kidney damage and long term heart damage. If you suffer from high blood pressure it is important to investigate both the natural means of lowering your blood pressure, such as weight loss, exercise and improved diet plan, as well is speaking with your physician about medications which may be used to lower your blood pressure to decrease your risk of heart disease.
Individuals who have long-standing alcohol abuse will also have an increased risk of congestive heart failure. Alcohol abuse will damage the liver, another vascular organ in the body. With liver damage comes a backup of blood supply and secondary hypertension. It should also be noted that individuals who have an underlying heart disease and are taking specific types of medications may lead to the development of congestive heart failure. This is true for medications that may cause the retention of sodium such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or ibuprofen for the use of pain medications as well as steroids and some diabetic medications.
Once congestive heart failure has occurred you cannot reverse the heart failure, but it can be treated with medications and many people receive good results. These medications, however, will not work well without also making lifestyle changes. By reducing your risk factors, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or obesity and making lifestyle choices, such as exercising, reducing salt in the diet, managing stress or treating depression, you are able to improve your long-term outlook after a diagnosis of congestive heart failure.
MayoClinic.com: Heart Failure
American Heart Association: what is Heart Failure
MedlinePlus: heart Failure
University of Maryland Medical Center: Heart Failure
University of California San Francisco: Diet and Congestive Heart Failure