Congestive heart failure (CHF) is usually a chronic disease that begins insidiously when the heart muscle is damaged by disease or illness. At other times the symptoms of heart failure can begin suddenly.
There are diseases that can weaken the heart muscle, such as hypertension or high blood pressure, diseases that cause the heart muscle to stiffen or diseases that increase the demand for oxygen by the tissue that overloads the work of the heart muscle.
The heart muscle isn’t able to keep up with the work required and blood backs up before entering the heart. This causes congestion in the tissues as fluid leaks from the blood vessels and causes the tissues to swell. This can happen in the ankles, feet, lungs or other areas of the body.
This heart failure can affect many different organs of the body, all of which contribute to the signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure. One of the symptoms is shortness of breath which limits the physical abilities of the person who suffers from heart failure. Because the blood also backs up in the pulmonary vein and leaks fluid into the lungs it decreases the amount of lung tissue available to exchange oxygen.
Also, because of the decreased ability of the heart to pump oxygen, the tissues are starved for oxygen and can’t function at too much of an increased workload before going into anaerobic work.
People who suffer from CHF may also have persistent coughing or wheezing from the same build up of fluid in the lungs. Excessive fluid in the body tissue can cause swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen and weight gain from the extra fluid in the body. Shoes may get too tight, pants no longer fit or tissue is tight around the tops of the shoes. The kidneys aren’t able to dispose of extra salt and water that also contributes to the buildup of fluid. The extra fluid in the lungs will also discourage anyone from laying flat on their backs because they’re unable to catch their breath.
People who suffer from CHF will also experience fatigue or tiredness because the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body tissues. The body will divert the blood away from less vital organs, particularly the muscles in the limbs and send it to the heart and the brain. This results in a very tired feeling and difficulty with everyday activities such as climbing stairs, walking or carrying groceries.
It is not uncommon for individuals who suffer from congestive heart failure to experience a lack of appetite or nausea because the digestive system also receives less blood. This causes the feeling of being full or being sick to the stomach. As the ability of the heart to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body decreases the brain also suffers. Individuals may experience confusion, impaired thinking and changing levels of certain chemicals in the brain. This results in memory loss, and feelings of disorientation.
To make up for this loss and pumping capacity the heart will often beat faster. This makes the individual feel as if they’re having heart palpitations and or like the heart is racing or throbbing.
These are all symptoms of chronic congestive heart failure. Individuals who also experience similar symptoms but which are more severe or worsens suddenly may have gone into acute heart failure. This results in the sudden buildup of fluid throughout the body and severe shortness of breath. People may also cough up pink foamy mucus.
It is an important to seek the advice of your primary care physician immediately if you suffer from chest pain, sudden fatigue and weakness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, reduced ability to exercise suddenly, persistent coughing or wheezing that results in pink blood tinged phlegm, a sudden worsening of swelling in your legs, ankles or feet or a sudden change in your ability to concentrate.
With advancements in technology and medication more people are able to live longer lives with congestive heart failure. However, it requires the ability of the individual who suffers from congestive heart failure to make modifications to their lifestyle and take their medication as ordered in order to achieve these results.
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