Congestive heart failure is a chronic medical condition that affects the strength of the heart muscle and the ability of the muscle to pump oxygenated blood around the body.
In the past 40 years the number of individuals who suffer from congestive heart failure has grown significantly and today nearly 5 million Americans suffer from this condition.
What is Congestive Heart Failure?
Congestive heart failure is the end product of a number of cardiovascular diseases that decrease the ability of the heart to pump efficiently.
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.
A diagnosis of congestive heart failure means that nutritional preventative methods are too late but nutritional intervention can continue to assist the function of a damaged heart and support traditional medicine medications.
Symptoms of Heart Failure
Heart failure can affect many different organs of the body, all of which contribute to the signs and symptoms of congestive heart failure.
Shortness of Breath
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.
Persistent Coughing or Wheezing
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.
Lack of Appetite, Nausea
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.
Confusion, Impaired Thinking
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.
Rapid Heartbeat, Palpitations
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 experience similar symptoms but which are more severe or worsen 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.
CHF Treatment Methodologies
Because of advancements in technology and medical research, new treatment methodologies have enabled patients to increase their life expectancy and decrease the number of side effects they suffer.
Among those treatment methodologies are alternatives to traditional medicine therapy which are gaining popularity with both holistic medicine practitioners and some traditional Western medicine physicians.
Nutritional and Exercise Intervention for CHF
Today, researchers believe that nutritional intervention for congestive heart failure may be able to augment, and possibly substitute, for pharmaceutical drugs therapy.
But nutritional therapy and interventions are not the only alternative methodologies available to patients who suffer from congestive heart failure. Another is exercise. Researchers have found that just 30 minutes of exercise twice a week, under the care of your cardiologist, can reduce the risk of hospitalization or death.
This study was presented at an annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in March 2009. Researchers found that those who participated in more exercise received greater benefits. Remember, before undertaking any exercise program to speak with your primary care physician or cardiologist about your limitations.
Dietary Guidelines for CHF Patients
Individuals who suffer from congestive heart failure must be careful about their dietary intake as it relates to sodium and potassium. Many people are taking diuretics, or “water pills”, which reduces the amount of sodium and potassium in the body.
Potassium is a necessary mineral for the function of any muscle, including the heart muscle. Before adding or subtracting any mineral supplementation to your diet be sure to speak with your physician about the medications which you are currently taking and the guidelines which you must follow.
According to American Family Physician, more than $12 billion are spent each year on natural supplementation. In 1993 a study showed that one third of Americans use some form of alternative medicine, and that number has continued to grow over the coming decade.
One of the more popular adjuncts to treatment for congestive heart failure has been Q10. This is an enzyme that is found in all tissues of the body and is necessary for metabolic reactions. It is used in heart disease because of its antioxidant effects and its ability to stabilize sodium and potassium activated enzymes. There have been several well-researched studies that have shown an improvement in several measurements for individuals who suffer from congestive heart failure.
Hawthorn is a plant which contains active flavanoids which inhibit vasoconstriction and activate the dilation of blood vessels. It has also been a very popular supplement for use in individuals who suffer from congestive heart failure, and other heart ailments.
However, it can increase the action of drugs such as digitoxin and therefore is recommended that patients stop the use of Hawthorn if they are taking any other medication unless they are monitored by their physician.
Another more obvious alternative treatment method for CHF is weight loss. By maintaining an optimal weight the individual is able to reduce any unnecessary strain on the heart which decreases the progression of the damage. By restricting alcohol intake and salt intake people are also able to reduce damage.
Other supplements which have been shown to have some effect are fish oils, arginine, carnitine, folic acid, psyllium, ribose, and astragalus. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that reduces free radical damage and thiamine, vitamin B1, may actually be the cause of some heart failure when there is a deficiency.
Do not mix herbal diuretics with other medications because there will be drug interactions. And, guard against any magnesium deficiency, which causes the muscles under function, malfunction or not function at all.
Before making the addition of any of these alternatives treatment methodologies to your particular case it is important that you speak with your cardiologist and ensure that nothing you are going to try will have a significant drug interaction with anything else you are already taking.
It is also 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.
Pulmonary Hypertension and CHF
In order to understand the relationship between pulmonary hypertension and congestive heart failure it is essential that you have a basic understanding of how the heart works.
The heart consists of four separate chambers. The top two chambers are called atria in the bottom two chambers are called ventricles. Blood enters the heart through the right atrium, passes through to the right ventricle where it is pumped out to the lungs through the pulmonary artery.
Here he blood picks up oxygen and is carried back to the heart in through the left atrium through the pulmonary vein. The blood then travels into the left ventricle where the heart pumps it out through the aorta to the rest of the body.
Pulmonary hypertension is a diagnosis that is received when the blood pressure in the pulmonary artery, or the blood vessel that leads from the heart into the lungs, is higher than normal. The pressure in the pulmonary artery is usually lower compared to that pressure which is in the aorta.
Having a higher blood pressure in the pulmonary artery can create irrevocable damage to the lungs and cause the right ventricle to fail as it pumps against a greater pressure than it was designed to pump against.
Pulmonary hypertension can both cause congestive heart failure or be caused by congestive heart failure. Pulmonary hypertension is usually divided into a primary type and secondary type. Primary pulmonary hypertension has an origin of unknown etiology. In other words, it happens with no family history, no familial form and no primary disease.
Secondary pulmonary hypertension can be due from congenital heart disease, pulmonary embolism, collagen and vascular disorders, sarcoidosis, HIV or portal hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension can also be a result of blood clots, lung disease, heart disease and sleep disorders.
Pulmonary hypertension is suspected in an x-ray or echocardiogram indicates an enlargement of the right ventricle. A cardiac catheterization will allow a physician to diagnose pulmonary hypertension and determine the best treatment plan for your individual needs.
CAT scans, pulmonary function tests, exercise tests, perfusion lung scans, magnetic resonance imaging and blood tests will all be used to track the progress of the disease in its response to treatment.
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