Congestive Heart Failure

Friday, April 1, 2011

Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart can no longer pump enough blood to the rest of the body. It usually affects only the right side or only the left side of the heart. These are called right-sided heart failure or left-sided heart failure. Congestive heart failure can be caused by diseases that cause stiffening of the heart muscles, diseases that weaken the heart muscle, and diseases that increase oxygen demand by the body tissue beyond the capability of the heart to deliver adequate oxygenated bood (oxygen-rich blood).

The most common cause of congestive heart failure is coronary artery disease (CAD), a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. Heart failure can also occur when an infection weakens the heart muscle. Such a disorder is called cardiomyopathy. The best way to prevent heart failure is to control risk factors and conditions that cause heart failure, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or obesity.

When congestive heart failure affects the left side, backward failure of the left ventricle causes congestion of the pulmonary vasculature, and so the symptoms are predominantly respiratory in nature. Backward failure can be subdivided into failure of the left atrium, the left ventricle or both within the left circuit. The patient will have dyspnea on exertion and in severe cases, dyspnea at rest. Increasing breathlessness on lying flat, called orthopnea, occurs. It is often measured in the number of pillows required to lie comfortably, and in severe cases, the patient may resort to sleeping while sitting up.

Symptoms of congestive heart failure include shortness of breath, cough, swelling of abdomen, swelling of feet, fatigue, irregular pulse, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, etc. A physical examination may reveal fluid around the lungs, irregular heart beat, swelling of the liver, leg swelling. To avoid a worsening of the condition, the patient should considerably reduce the intake of salt, avoid stress or stressing situation, and practice aerobic excercise, such as walking and riding bicycle.