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Heart Failure

Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure, occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body. The heart continues to pump, but it fails to pump sufficient blood with each beat.

Congestive heart failure can be caused by past heart attack, narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), heart valve disease, infection of the heart or heart valves, untreated high blood pressure, or other heart defects.

The heart's role is to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body.

When blood fails to reach the extremities and organs, many problems develop. Blood does not flow strongly through the arteries so blood does not return to the heart properly in the veins. This results in edema, or a build up of fluid in the tissues. A common symptom of heart failure is swelling in the legs and ankles. There is often a shortness of breath, either with exercise or at rest.

Kidney function can be compromised in heart failure. Without adequate blood flow to the kidney, it cannot perform it's function to clean the blood. Water is not eliminated properly and the extra water can build up in the body, leading to edema.

Causes of Heart Failure

Sometimes, the underlying cause of heart failure can be treated to improve heart function. Lowering blood pressure with lifestyle changes or medication, opening atheroclerotic arteries, or repairing dysfunctioning heart valves can help restore proper blood flow to the rest of the body.

The goal of lifestyle changes in heart failure is to relieve the heart of extra work. Losing weight, reducing sodium intake to very low levels, and reducing fluid intake are usually recommended.


Common medications to treat heart failure include drugs to lower blood pressure and expand blood vessels so blood can flow more easily. Diuretics are also commonly prescribed to reduce the build up of excess fluid. A last resort treatment for heart failure is a heart transplant.


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