Congestive Heart Failure
Alternative Heart Disease Treatment
Congestive Heart Failure
From Texas Heart Institute
The words "heart failure" sound alarming, but
they do not mean that your heart has suddenly stopped working. Instead, heart
failure means your heart is not pumping as well as it should to deliver
oxygen-rich blood to your body's cells.
Congestive Heart Failure happens when the heart's weak pumping action causes a
buildup of fluid called congestion in your lungs and other body tissues.
Congestive Heart Failure usually develops slowly. You may go for years without
symptoms, and the symptoms tend to get worse with time. This slow onset and
progression of Congestive Heart Failure is caused by your heart's own efforts to
deal with its gradual weakening. Your heart tries to make up for this weakening
by enlarging and by forcing itself to pump faster to move more blood through
Who is at risk for developing Congestive Heart Failure, and what are its
According to a recent study, people over 40 have a 1 in 5 chance of developing
Congestive Heart Failure in their lifetime. Nearly 5 million people in the
United States—mostly older adults—already have Congestive Heart Failure, and the
number of people with Congestive Heart Failure keeps rising. About 550,000
people develop Congestive Heart Failure each year. This is because people are
living longer and surviving heart attacks and other medical conditions that put
them at risk for Congestive Heart Failure. People who have other types of heart
and vessel disease are also at risk for Congestive Heart Failure.
Risk factors for Congestive Heart Failure include
--Previous heart attacks
--Coronary artery disease
--High blood pressure (hypertension)
--Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
--Heart valve disease (especially of the aortic and mitral valves)
--Cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle)
--Congenital heart defects (defects you are born with)
--Alcohol and drug abuse
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can help doctors find out which side of your heart is not working
If the left side of your heart is not working properly (left-sided heart
failure), blood and fluid back up into your lungs. You will feel short of
breath, be very tired, and have a cough (especially at night). In some cases,
patients may begin to cough up pinkish, blood-tinged sputum.
If the right side of your heart is not working properly (right-sided heart
failure), the slowed blood flow causes a buildup of fluid in your veins. Your
feet, legs, and ankles will begin to swell. This swelling is called edema.
Sometimes edema spreads to the lungs, liver, and stomach. Because of the fluid
buildup, you may need to go to the bathroom more often, especially at night.
Fluid buildup is also hard on your kidneys. It affects their ability to dispose
of salt (sodium) and water, which can lead to kidney failure. Once Congestive
Heart Failure is treated, the kidneys' function usually returns to normal.
As heart failure progresses, your heart becomes weaker and symptoms begin. In
addition to those listed above, here are some other symptoms of Congestive Heart
--You have trouble breathing or lying flat because you feel short of breath.
--You feel tired, weak, and are unable to exercise or perform physical
--You have weight gain from excess fluid.
--You feel chest pain.
--You do not feel like eating, or you feel like you have indigestion.
--Your neck veins are swollen.
--Your skin is cold and sweaty.
--Your pulse is fast or irregular.
--You feel restless, confused, and find that your attention span and memory are
not as good as they were.
How is Congestive Heart Failure diagnosed?
Most doctors can make a tentative diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure from the
presence of edema and shortness of breath.
With a stethoscope, a doctor can listen to your chest for the crackling sounds
of fluid in the lungs, the distinct sound of faulty valves (heart murmur), or
the presence of a very quick heartbeat. By tapping on your chest, doctors can
find out if fluid has built up in your chest.
A chest x-ray can show if your heart is enlarged and if you have fluid in and
around your lungs.
Electrocardiography (ECG or EKG) can be used to check for an irregular heartbeat
(arrhythmia) and stress on the heart. It can also show your doctor if you have
had a heart attack.
Echocardiography can be used to see valve function, heart wall motion, and
overall heart size.
Other imaging techniques, such as nuclear ventriculography and angiography, can
provide a firm diagnosis and show doctors how diseased your heart is.
How is Congestive Heart Failure treated?
Many therapies can help to ease the workload of your heart. Treatment may
include lifestyle changes, medicines, transcatheter interventions, and surgery.
--If you smoke, quit.
--Learn to control high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and diabetes.
--Eat a sensible diet that is low in calories, saturated fat, and salt.
--Limit how much alcohol you drink.
--Limit the amount of liquids you drink.
--Weigh yourself daily to watch for fluid buildup.
--Start an aerobic exercise program that has been approved by your doctor.
Studies show that medicines also help improve your heart function and make it
easier for you to exercise or do physical activity. The following medicines are
often given to patients with Congestive Heart Failure:
--Diuretics, which help rid your body of extra fluid.
--Inotropics, such as digitalis, which strengthen your heart's ability to pump.
--Vasodilators, such as nitroglycerin, which open up narrowed vessels.
--Calcium channel blockers, which keep vessels open and lower blood pressure.
--Beta blockers, which have been shown to help increase your ability to exercise
and improve your symptoms over time.
--ACE inhibitors, which keep vessels open and lower blood pressure.
--Angiotensin II receptor blockers, which keep vessels open and lower blood
--Angioplasty is a procedure that is used to open arteries narrowed by fatty
plaque buildup. It is performed in a cardiac catheterization laboratory. Doctors
use a long, thin tube called a catheter that has a small balloon on its tip.
They inflate the balloon at the blockage site in the artery to flatten the fatty
plaque against the artery wall.
--Stenting is used along with balloon angioplasty. It involves placing a
mesh-like metal device into an artery at a site narrowed by plaque. The stent is
mounted on a balloon-tipped catheter, threaded through an artery, and positioned
at the blockage. The balloon is then inflated, opening the stent. Then, the
catheter and deflated balloon are removed, leaving the stent in place. The
opened stent keeps the vessel open and stops the artery from collapsing.
--Inotropic drug therapy can increase your heart's ability to beat. This
medicine is given through a small catheter placed directly in an artery.
--Heart valve repair or replacement
--Correction of congenital heart defects
--Coronary artery bypass surgery
--Mechanical assist devices
The best way to prevent heart failure is to
practice healthy lifestyle habits that reduce your chances of developing a heart
problem. It is also important to find out if you have any risk factors that
contribute to heart failure, such as high blood pressure or coronary artery
disease. Many patients with congestive heart failure can be successfully
treated, usually with a transcatheter intervention.
Patients should carefully follow their doctors' advice. In doing so, they can
continue to live full and productive lives.