Heart Failure

Heart Failure


Joint Commission

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What is it?

Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart muscle fails to pump as much blood as the body needs. The faulty pumping means the body doesn't get the oxygen it needs. It causes a buildup of fluid called congestion in the lungs and other body tissues that make the heart weaker.

Congestive heart failure develops slowly and the symptoms get worse overtime. This slow onset and progression is caused by the body's trying to make up for not getting enough blood. The body may raise the blood pressure, hold on to salt and water and make the heart beat faster. The muscular walls of the heart may get bigger and thicker. The heart tries to make up for this weakening by pumping faster to move more blood through your body. However, in time the heart is no longer able to keep up. The symptoms then get worse.

Causes, Symptoms and Risk Factors

People are living longer and surviving a heart attack which puts them at risk for congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure is generally the result of another disease, such as:

Many people with severe heart disease in time develop congestive heart failure. In the early stages of congestive heart failure, a person may have no symptoms. When symptoms do develop, they may include:

  • Trouble breathing or lying flat due to shortness of breath
  • A dry, persistent cough, especially at night
  • Confusion, sleepiness, disorientation or weakened memory
  • Dizziness, fainting, fatigue or weakness
  • Chest pain
  • Fluid buildup, especially in the legs, ankles and feet
  • Increased urination at night
  • Nausea, abdominal swelling, tenderness or pain
  • Weight gain due to fluid buildup
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite (may feel indigestion)
  • Rapid breathing or fast, irregular pulse
  • Shortness of breath and lung congestion
  • Tired, weak or unable to perform physical activities
  • Wheezing and spasms of the airways similar to asthma
  • Skin may be cold and sweaty

Our Services (Tests, Procedures and Treatments)

Diagnostic testing and procedures are the first step in establishing a treatment strategy. A doctor may order tests or perform the following procedures:

Options for on-going treatment may include medicines such as diuretics or beta-blockers. Surgery to open blocked blood vessels in the heart can restore normal blood flow or to correct certain types of heart valve disease may also improve symptoms of heart failure. Surgeries may include:

Treating conditions, such as high blood pressure, thyroid disorders and coronary artery disease, as early as possible can help prevent heart failure. Congestive heart failure that develops or gets worse quickly needs to be treated on an emergency basis in a hospital. Medicine, oxygen or assistance breathing may be needed immediately. Certain hormones similar to adrenaline can be given on a short-term basis to help the heart muscle work more effectively.

The best way to prevent heart failure is to practice healthy lifestyle habits that reduce your chances of developing a heart problem. Lifestyle changes such as losing weight, starting an exercise program approved by your doctor or in a supervised cardiovascular rehabilitation program, reducing the amount of salt and fat in the diet, quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol.

St. Luke's Heart & Vascular