CHF Outpatient Clinic

Basic Information: Illustration of a Human Heart

The heart is responsible for pumping blood, nutrients, and oxygen to all areas of your body. Congestive heart failure (CHF) occurs when the heart muscle is weakened and doesn't pump with enough force. CHF can also arise when the valves within the heart do not function properly, or when the heart muscle is thick and stiff.

Approximately 5 million Americans are currently living with heart failure...

For these individuals, the heart is unable to pump sufficient blood to meet the body's metabolic requirements. When the blood is not pumped forward to the body, it can back up into the lungs causing difficulty breathing. This shortness of breath may become worse with exertion such as walking or climbing stairs. Patients may wake at night with coughing spells or difficulty breathing.

Congestive heart failure is a chronic condition, which means that it cannot be cured with a short course of treatment. CHF may also be referred to as "CARDIOMYOPATHY". Do not be intimidated by this medical term. "CARDIO" means "heart", "MYO" means "muscle", and "PATH" means pathology or disease. Therefore, cardiomyopathy simply means that there is a problem with heart muscle function.

Proper treatment may require:

  • Careful selection and adjustment of medications
  • Diet low in sodium
  • Daily weighing
  • Exercise program.

Sometimes Cardiac Surgery is required to correct the underlying problem

Causes of CHF:

Heart attacks due to coronary artery disease are the most common cause of heart failure. Heart attacks can cause scarring and stiffening of the heart muscle, interfering with the heart's pumping function. Viral or bacterial infections also cause heart failure. In many cases, heart failure is brought on by unknown causes.

Here is a more complete list of the causes of CHF:

  • CORONARY ARTERY DISEASE / HEART ATTACKS
  • HYPERTENSION (high blood pressure)
  • VALVULAR HEART DISEASE (leakiness or narrowing of the heart valves)
  • CHRONIC ALCOHOL ABUSE
  • THYROID GLAND DISORDERS
  • VIRAL INFECTIONS
  • FOLLOWING CHILDBIRTH
  • RADIATION AND CHEMOTHERAPY
  • UNIDENTIFIED CAUSES
  • HEREDITARY
  • CONGENITAL DISORDERS (birth-related defects)

Signs and Symptoms of CHF:Illustration of Human Heart & Lungs

Heart failure symptoms are often gradual in their development, as the body has great capacity to compensate for early changes in many diseases. Often, patients will wait until their breathing is severely impaired before seeking medical attention.

Shortness of breath (dyspnea)- Breathlessness is often worse during exertion or while lying down.

Waking up breathless at night (orthopnea)- Shortness of breath experienced while lying flat is a telltale sign of a weakened heart. Patients may prop themselves up on pillows or sit upright to breath comfortably.

Coughing. The buildup of fluid in the lungs (Pulmonary Edema) can result in a nagging cough that may worsen when lying down.

Swelling (edema) and weight gain. The feet, ankles, legs, or belly may become distended as fluid backing up from a weakened heart begins to accumulate. Rapid weight gain is common.

Fatigue. A lack of adequate oxygen to provide fuel to working muscles can result in exhaustion from even the simplest activity.

SYMPTOMS SEEN WITH CHF:

  • SHORTNESS OF BREATH
  • WAKING AT NIGHT WITH COUGH OR TROUBLE BREATHING
  • SLEEPING UPRIGHT (ON PILLOWS OR IN A CHAIR) TO PREVENT WAKING WITH TROUBLE BREATHING
  • SWELLING OF THE ANKLES
  • WAKING MANY TIMES EACH NIGHT TO URINATE
  • EASILY FATIGUED
  • INCREASED ABDOMINAL GIRTH
  • RAPID UNUSUAL WEIGHT GAIN

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