Congestive heart failure symptoms typically begin slowly and may initially be seen only during times of activity. However, over time, shortness of breath and other symptoms may be noticed even during times of rest. Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart becomes an inefficient or weak pump. This article shares information so you can learn to recognize the symptoms associated with this chronic condition and begin to form an online diagnosis making you better prepared for your visit to your medical doctor’s office.
This heart condition is a long-term and chronic condition, which typically involves both sides of the heart. However, the condition may affect only the right side of the heart (right-sided heart failure) or the left side (left-sided heart failure). The condition occurs when your heart muscles are weak and cannot pump the blood out of the heart effectively (systolic heart failure) or when your heart muscles are stiff and do not fill up with blood easily (diastolic heart failure).
In any form of heart failure, the heart becomes incapable of adequately pumping oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body, especially during times of physical exercise or exertion.
Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms and Causes
Symptoms tend to develop slowly, however, they can develop suddenly in certain cases such as following a heart attack or other heart problem. Initially symptoms may be seen only during periods of activity. As time passes, symptoms can appear even during periods of rest.
Common symptoms of congestive heart failure include:
- Shortness of breath with exertion or when lying down
- Swelling in legs, feet and ankles (pooling of blood)
- Swelling of the abdomen
- Weight gain
- Loss of appetite, indigestion
- Irregular or rapid pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Weakness and fatigue
- Heart palpitations (feeling the heart beat)
- Difficulty sleeping
- Other symptoms may include:
- Decreased in alertness or ability to concentrate
- Decreased urine production
- Nighttime urination (the need to get out of bed to go to the bathroom)
- Nausea and vomiting
If congestive heart failure is present in an infant, a parent or guardian may notice the infant sweats during feedings or with other activities.
Some individuals may have no apparent symptoms. In these individuals, symptoms may only appear with an accompanying condition such as anemia, arrhythmias (abnormal heart beat or rhythm), hyperthyroidism, infection with high fever, and kidney disease.
Congestive heart failure is often the result of a major complication of some chronic diseases such as coronary artery disease, which is a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply the heart. Other causes may include and infection that weakens the heart muscle (i.e. cardiomyophathy), congenital heart disease, multiple heart attacks, heart valve disease, or certain infections. Other diseases that may contribute to heart failure include, chronic high blood pressure (hypertension), emphysema (lung disease seen in long term smokers), severe anemia, hyperthyroidism.
Congestive Heart Failure Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis may begin with the observation of the aforementioned symptoms and should be confirmed through an evaluation by a physician. The evaluation may include a physical examination, ECG, chest x-rays, Heart CT scan, MRI of the heart, echocardiogram, angiography (x-ray of the heart and blood vessels using a radiopaque contrast medium), heart catheterization, nuclear heart scan, and blood or urine analysis.
A physician will monitor your condition closely with frequent follow-up visits (i.e. every 3 to 6 months). You should also monitor your condition closely and weigh yourself often. Weight gain can indicate that your body is retaining fluid.
Home care includes taking your medications as directed, limiting salt intake, quitting smoking, staying physically active under your doctor’s direction, controlling or losing weight, getting plenty of rest with your feet elevated.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to help control symptoms such as:
- ACE inhibitors, which open up blood vessels and decrease the work load of the heart (i.e. captopril, enalapril, lisinopril, and ramipril)
- Diuretics, which reduce the accumulation of fluid (i.e. hydrochlorothiazide, chlorthalidone, chlorothiazide, furosemide, torsemide, bumetanide, and spironolactone)
- Digitalis glycosides, which help the heart muscle contract properly and help treat some heart arrhythmias
- Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), which can be taken in place of ACE inhibitors (i.e. losartan and candesartan)
- Beta-blockers (i.e. carvedilol and metoprolol)
Certain medications should not be taken as they may worsen congestive heart failure. These medications include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), thiazolidinediones, metformin, cilostazol, PDE-5 inhibitors (sildenafil, vardenafil), and others. Discuss any medications with your doctor.