Congestive heart failure (CHF), or heart failure, is caused by a number of factors which when combined make it difficult for the heart to pump blood through the body to vital organs. Causes of the condition include:
- Previous heart attacks and resulting scar tissue
- Increased blood pressure
- Narrowing of the arteries which supply blood directly into the heart (coronary artery disease)
- Heart valve disease
- Congenital heart defects
- Cardiomyopathy – disease of the main heart muscle
- Endocarditis – infection of the heart valves
- Myocarditis – infection of the heart muscle
- Fatigue due to the heart’s inability to pump blood quickly enough
The disease causes a cumulative build up of blood inside the arteries as the flow from the heart is much slower than required, so blood flowing back in has nowhere to go resulting in congestion within tissue. An indication of CHF is swelling in the ankles and legs (it can occur in other areas of the body too) which is made worse by water retention when the kidneys are unable to perform properly due to lack of blood and oxygen. This also leads to high sodium content as the kidneys are unable to flush toxins and unused minerals.
Fluid can also gather in the lungs which leads to breathing difficulties, and this aspect of the condition is generally worsened when the sufferer is lying down.
Diagnosing and treating congestive heart failure
The earliest signs as mentioned previously are breathing difficulties and/or swelling to the ankles and legs. A less obvious indication is weight gain caused by fluid retention. If you think you have any of these symptoms contact your doctor immediately to be safe.
The treatment of CHF is usually carried out by a series of programs which comprise of the following elements:
- Extended rest periods
- Healthy diet (lots of greens and fruit)
- Moderate exercise (walking)
- Specific drug prescriptions including:
- Beta Blockers (a relaxant)
- Diuretics (to eliminate water retention)
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE)
- Digitalis (Foxglove – derivative of a plant which increases the heart rate and regulates its rhythm)
- Vasodilators (which widen arteries)
Specific causes of CHF can be treated directly without the need to use several different treatments and the doctor’s diagnosis should ensure the correct treatment is given. Specific cases include things like treating high blood pressure or surgery to replace a damaged valve.
In worst scenario cases the patient may need a heart transplant.
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