Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to the body’s organs to supply oxygen and nutrients necessary to sustain life. This condition can result from a number of diseases or illnesses including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, infection of the heart muscle and heart valve disease.
Although the heart continues to work it isn’t as efficient or effective as it should be which results in a number of different symptoms including shortness of breath, fatigue, fluid build up in the ankles, feet or abdomen or decreased ability of the kidneys to function.
Once the physician has diagnosed the problem they will initiate different forms of treatment to alleviate the symptoms. It is also important to treat the underlying condition so further damage doesn’t occur. And the treatment recommended for the congestive heart failure will also rely upon the treatment of the causative factor and any other underlying medical conditions.
Between 1 and 2 million people in the United States suffers from congestive heart failure. The number one cause of this disease is high blood pressure, which is also known as the “silent killer” because you can live with it undetected for many years before symptoms will finally appear.
Treatment protocols will be developed on an individual basis as a result of physical examination, blood tests and imaging studies to track the progress of the condition. Treatment for congestive heart failure will always include proper rest, diet and modified daily activities. Most of us don’t get the recommended number of hours of sleep each day that allows our body to heal, nor do we eat a well balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables that provides enough vitamins and minerals to help the cells to heal and function optimally.
Once the underlying cause of the congestive heart failure is discovered it should be treated or corrected if possible. For instance, if there is a heart valve abnormality the valve can be surgically replaced thus decreasing the likelihood that the congestive heart failure will continue to progress quickly. However, while correction of the underlying problem may slow the progression of the CHF it won’t reverse the process and the heart damage that has occurred can’t be corrected.
Your cardiologist will also recommend that you make lifestyle changes to improve the success rate of treatments. These changes include good control of your diabetes (if you suffer from diabetes), treatment of sleep apnea, decrease or eliminate alcohol use, stop smoking, maintain hydration using the physician recommended fluid intake, and participating in an exercise program recommended by your cardiologist.
A variety of drugs will also be considered. These medications will be prescribed based on your current medical condition and will be closely monitored. These medications are mentioned in no certain order and the effectiveness of them will be determined by your cardiologist.
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are drugs that help vessels to dilate to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow and decrease the workload on the heart. Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (ARBs) are medications that work much the same as ACE inhibitors and can be an alternative for those who can’t tolerate the ACE inhibitors.
Digoxin or digitalis, is a medication that is used to strengthen the heart muscle contractions. It can also work to slow the rate of the heart and usually improves the ability of the person to live with congestive heart failure. Beta Blockers is an entire class of drug that reduces blood pressure through another mechanism and reduces the rate of abnormal heart rhythms.
Diuretics are often called water pills and help the kidney to work more efficiently, thus ridding the body of extra fluid and decreasing the workload on the heart. Aldosterone antagonists are drugs that are diuretics but don’t have the side effect of reducing the amount of potassium in the body like some of the other diuretics do. They also can reverse some scarring on the heart and may help those with severe CHF to live longer.
Each of these factors is important in the treatment of your congestive heart failure. While we are a society that has great ties to the pharmaceutical industry and often look to a pill to solve our problems it is really a combination of rest, nutrition, modified daily activities and the remainder of the medical treatment protocols that effect the best long-term results.
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