Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a chronic progressive condition which affects the pumping power and effectiveness of your heart muscle. Often, it is referred to as “heart failure” or HF.
The human heart has four chambers. The upper part of your heart has two atria, and the lower part of your heart has two ventricles. The ventricles pump blood to your organs and tissues, while the atria receive that same blood as it circulates back from the rest of your body.
CHF develops when your ventricles cannot pump effectively. The ineffectiveness of the ventricles cause blood to back up (get congested). This can result in fluid backing up into your lungs, abdomen, liver and the lower part of your body. Left untreated, CHF can be life-threatening. With proper treatment and diligent self-management, congestive heart failure is manageable.
Symptoms of heart failure may include unintentional weight gain, swelling in your ankles and feet, and shortness of breath. Many people experience these symptoms while at rest, while others experience such symptoms while active ( walking short distances, doing household chores, climbing stairs, and doing simple yard work).
There are a variety of medications available nowadays to treat congestive heart failure. Your treatment regimen may include an ACE inhibitor ( also known as an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor), which can help to open up narrowed blood vessels. By doing so, blood flow is improved and blood pressure is lowered. Beta-blockers can reduce blood pressure and slow down a fast (rapid) heart rate. Finally, diuretics ( also referred to by many people as water pills) can reduce the body’s fluid volume; thus, reducing the swelling in your lower extremities.
With proper management of congestive heart failure, people can maintain their health and live quality filled, productive lifestyles. Simple lifestyle behaviors will enable you to keep your HF under control, and live a healthy lifestyle: Be sure to weight yourself daily, and report unintentional weight gains of more than 2 pounds in a day to your doctor. Also, let them know if you gain over 5 pounds in a single week. Medication and diet may need to be changed so as to prevent fluid retention/weight gain.
You should also learn to read food and nutrition labels. This will help you take control of your heart failure. You will probably be advised to keep your sodium intake to less than 1500mg/daily. Food labels are the best way to understand calorie counts, portion serving sizes, and sodium contents of foods. Knowledge is power. Be aware of your food and fluid intake; read labels, and ask for restaurant menus to learn what ingredients are being used that may impact your sodium intake.
Finally, and probably most importantly, is to take your medication as directed. Splitting dosages, skipping doses, or not taking medications as directed, can all affect your overall health. If you cannot afford your medications, talk to your doctor to see if less expensive medications are available . You may also contact the pharmaceutical companies or your local pharmacist and ask if there are any patient assistance programs available for your medications.
For more information on heart health, visit your local chapter of the American Heart Association.