Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) is a condition where the heart isn’t pumping strongly enough to keep the body’s cells well supplied with oxygen-rich blood. As a result, the lungs and tissues in the body become congested (they fill up with fluid).
People over the age of 40 are at risk for developing CHF. More than five million Americans have this condition and the general population has a 1 in 5 chance of developing it during their lifetime. Approximately 400,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.
Risk Factors for Congestive Heart Failure
You may be at risk for developing congestive heart failure if any of the following criteria fit your personal situation:
- Coronary artery diseas
- Heart valve disease
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Previous heart attack
People with congenital heart defects are also at increased risk for congestive heart failure. A history of alcohol and/or drug abuse can also lead to CHF.
Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure
The symptoms that a patient experiences indicates which side of the heart is not working properly. People who complain of feeling short of breath, fatigue and coughing at night are probably experiencing a problem with the left side of the heart. These symptoms are caused by fluid and blood backing up into the lungs.
When the difficulty is a malfunction of the right side of the heart, the CHF patient may experience swollen feet, legs and ankles. The swelling, known as edema, may spread up to the liver, stomach and lungs. Frequent urination, especially at night, may be a symptom of CHF. Fluid buildup makes it more difficult for the kidneys to function, which eventually leads to kidney failure.
Diagnosing Congestive Heart Failure
When a patient sees his or her doctor complaining of shortness of breath and swelling in the lower extremities, the doctor may order a chest x-ray to look for evidence of fluid in the lungs and an enlarged heart. An electrocardiogram (EKG) may be ordered to check for an irregular heartbeat.
Once congestive heart failure has been diagnosed, there are treatment options available.