Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) is one of the most prevalent diagnoses today.
Congestive heart failure is a combination of heart dysfunction along with symptoms of heart failure such as shortness of breath or leg swelling. The heart dysfunction can be systolic, in which the ejection fraction is low and heart muscle strength is weakened. Or it can be diastolic heart dysfunction, in which the heart filling and relaxation is impaired because of heart muscle stiffness.
The goal of treating heart failure is to improve quality of life and life expectancy, prevent unnecessary emergency room visits and hospital admissions, and promote use of heart strengthening medications.
What are the warning signs and symptoms of heart failure?
Symptoms of heart failure may get worse over time. The most common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath-this may get worse over time.
- Fatigue-this happens because your muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen from your blood.
- Palpitations-this is a feeling that your heart is racing or that your heartbeat is irregular.
- Chronic cough-this is due to the fluid buildup in the lungs.
- Fluid retention-especially in the legs and feet.
Other symptoms can include heart palpitations (feeling that your heart is racing or that your heartbeat is irregular). Some people also have nausea and lack of appetite, dizziness, fainting spells, or difficulty concentrating.
Heart failure severity is described by the New York Heart Failure Class System:
- Class I- has heart failure but does not yet have heart failure symptoms
- Class II-has symptoms with mid-level exercise
- Class III-has symptoms with low-level exercise
- Class IV-has symptoms even when at rest.
How is heart failure detected?
Heart failure can be diagnosed in a variety of different ways. Your doctor will decide which tests are appropriate for you.
What are the treatment options for heart failure?
People suffering from heart failure can almost always be helped by changes in lifestyle. For instance, it is important that people with heart failure eat low-fat foods and especially low-salt (low-sodium) foods. Your doctor may also recommend cardiac rehabilitation as part of your treatment, which will show you the best exercises to do, suggest new eating habits, order medications to reduce your symptoms, and help you regain or learn new lifestyle and coping skills.
Also, check with your doctor about pain relievers you may need for aches and pains. Heart failure patients should avoid one type of pain reliever: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. This includes medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), among others. Ask your doctor or nurse which pain relievers you can take.
Other types of treatment may depend on your test results. Your doctor may ask you to report worsening symptoms, blood pressure readings, and/or your weight on a regular (sometimes daily) basis. If you report changes in those areas, your doctor can act accordingly to change your treatment.
Some types of heart failure can be improved by pacemakers which enhance the timing and vigor of the way the heart beats. Some can correct lethal arrhythmias which are more common in heart failure. These and other devices are being used more commonly in the treatment of heart failure.