Congestive heart failure is a contributing factor in the deaths of around 300,000 Americans every year. However the American Heart Association reported a few years ago that over 25% of that number could be saved each year if national heart treatment guidelines were followed.
Many people diagnosed with congestive heart failure spend years going in and out of hospitals. They feel bad all the time and their overall health begins an ever-accelerating downward spiral. Heart failure is not so much a disease as it is a term given when your heart is just too weak to pump blood at the volume your body needs to survive.
A human heart has four chambers and operates as a two sided pumping mechanism. The right chamber pumps blood in to the lungs to be oxygen enriched and then the left side distributes that blood to the rest of the human body. The four valves within the heart muscle, aortic, pulmonary, tricuspid and mitral, open and close in rhythm with the contractions to keep blood flowing in the correct direction.
The beginning of the downward cycle begins when the heart is forced to work too hard for too long. As with many health challenges, the body attempts to fix itself. In this case, it "remodels" when the heart becomes weaker. This causes it to hold more blood than it should which leads to an enlarged heart. Some of that held back blood can back up into the lungs. This is where the congestion related to heart failure arises.
The body then reacts by reducing blood flow to the kidneys. These two vital organs are responsible for regulating fluids. The reduced blood flow leads to excess fluid buildup, usually in the legs and ankles. The greater the buildup the harder the heart has to pump, so the cycle further deteriorates.
Congestive heart failure usually occurs in people over 65, but younger people can be victims as well. The following conditions heighten the risk.
Coronary Artery Disease. This is where your main cardiac arteries become so narrowed that blood flow is greatly reduced. Angioplasty and stents are often the relief for this condition, if not bypass surgery.
Heart Attack. As we mentioned in the page about heart attacks, the main arteries become blocked so blood flow cannot continue. With a resulting damaged cardiac muscle, the organ must now work even harder as it tries to heal itself. A person who recovers from a heart attack situation could be a victim of heart failure later in life without proper treatment.
High Blood Pressure. This one is pretty basic. If your heart is working too hard, it can easily be a contributing factor. We listed some causes of this condition in a previous page.
Diabetes. This is one of the big killers of the cardiovascular system. So much so that we've added a complete section about type 2 diabetes. You can find it in the navigation bar which is located in the left margin of every page.
Valvular Disease. As your body ages, the four important valves in your heart start to stiffen. They do not operate as they should and can leak.
Arrhythmia. Your cardiac system has it's own electrical mechanism. When that system fails, the heart beats incorrectly. The atrial version causes the upper chamber to quiver out of control. Sick sinus arrhythmia is when the heart beats too slowly.
Usually the symptoms of congestive heart failure come on gradually and are identified as chronic. In the less common times of rapid appearance, it would be considered acute. Some of those symptoms would include;
Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing with little energy exerted or even while attempting to sleep. Someone who needs to sleep in a chair or propped up in bed would be a likely candidate.
Immense fatigue while doing relatively easy things like just walking around a block.
Persistent coughing or wheezing.
Rapid weight gain or swelling, in particular around the legs and ankles.
Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
Lack of appetite, maybe to the point of nausea.
Chest pain, also known as angina, especially if you have been recently diagnosed with heart disease or have already had a previous heart attack.
There are various treatments for congestive heart failure. Your cardiac professional will make that determination based on your particular situation. There are drugs such as beta-blockers and vasodilators and in some cases surgery may be the required course. A pacemaker would be an example of such a procedure.
Here is a link with some comments from renowned heart specialist ,Dr. Chauncey Crandall about the relentless march of congestive heart disease. Dr. Crandall is the author of "Fix It", which can be found in our list of classic books, located in the left margin of every page.
He also offers the following two suggestions to reduce the risks of facing this cardiac challenge.
Restrict Your Salt Intake. As we've mentioned before, salt causes your body to retain fluid. He suggests that you keep salt intake to under one teaspoon per day. Sounds hard right? Not as hard as not being able to walk around the block.
Watch Your Fluid Intake. This may sound a bit like a contradiction. Don't we always hear to drink plenty of fluids? But if you have congestive heart failure, you have a different set of circumstances in which to correct. More fluid in your blood causes the heart to work much harder, thereby adding to the problem. Keep an eye on your weight. If you seem to be gaining or notice swelling, cut back on those fluids. A gain of over three pounds in a day warrants a call your your cardiac specialist.
Give serious consideration to the Mediterranean Diet. This amazing eating regimen contains the fiber, healthy fats, and lean meats that are cornerstones of a successful heart healthy diet.
Congestive heart failure can be avoided and possibly reversed. As with diet or exercise or really anything else that is important, it will take work and it will not be easy. But it will be worth it.
I would also suggest reading "Grain Brain" by Dr. David Perlmutter. Studies continue to surface showing the links between excess grain consumption and chronic disease.