A diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) can first be made when a person develops fatigue or shortness of breath with exertion or notices new swelling in the legs. About half of all heart failure is the result of a weakened heart muscle, while the other half is due to a heart muscle that does not relax normally. Each condition leads to elevated pressure inside the main pump chamber of the heart. This causes congestion downstream with fluid accumulation in the lungs and the legs. Additionally, the kidneys often do not work efficiently in patients with congestive heart failure.
CHF is a serious condition that warrants prompt medical attention. When treated, disease progression can be slowed, symptoms can be managed and treatment plans can be developed to ensure a good quality of life for patients. Not all patients have symptoms, but those who do often experience one or a combination of the following:
• Lung congestion
• Swelling/weight gain
• Dizziness, fatigue and weakness
• Rapid or irregular heartbeat
CHF treatment varies depending on how advanced the disease is. Early on, treatment may be lifestyle-oriented, with a focus on cutting out habits like smoking, making healthy food choices and getting the right amount of exercise. Limiting sodium and fluid intake can reduce symptoms and certain medications have been shown to help control symptoms and prolong life. In some patients, repair of the heart with coronary artery stents, bypass surgery or valve surgery will improve heart function. Medications and devices such as pacemakers, defibrillators and biventricular pacemakers can also improve symptoms.
Having a good relationship with your physician can lead to better outcomes if you have CHF. He or she can create the best treatment plan and closely monitor your overall well being. The good news is that with proper monitoring, treatment and a healthy lifestyle, CHF patients can maintain their good quality of life and keep many of their symptoms at bay.