Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive Heart Failure is a condition where the heart doesn’t pump blood adequately to provide for the body, specifically meaning that the rate of the heart’s pumps is much slower than normal. Because it is slower, the body is then not able to acquire as much oxygen and nutrients as it needs, and as a result, the body suffers. In an effort to compensate for the lack of blood pumping through, the kidneys tell the body to retain fluid rich with water and nutrients. This can then build up in other parts of the body, leading it to become “congested” (MedicineNet). Heart failure can be diastolic, where the heart can’t fill up with blood due to thickening of the chambers, or systolic, where the heart can’t pump because the chambers of the heart are stretched out and thin. Throughout the USA, heart failure affects nearly 6 million Americans and is the leading cause of hospitalizations among people older than 65 years old. (Mayo Clinic).

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure include fatigue, shortness of breath, edema, and understandably, lower exercise capacity (WebMD). Shortness of breath is caused by fluid backing up in the lungs causing congested lungs. Increased fluid retention might also cause swelling in the legs and abdomen, which then can be interpreted as weight gain and bloating. Because of less blood and oxygen reaching the body, fatigue is a common symptom, often accompanied by dizziness. All these cause lower exercise capacity because a lack of oxygen and inadequate breathing won’t allow for tougher exercises. It is important to mention, however, that the symptoms and their degrees vary from person to person.

Heart Failure arises from different causes, some of which include coronary artery disease, heart attack, cardiomyopathy, heart blood pressure, thyroid disease, and any other condition that might lead to an overworked heart. Heart failure is diagnosed based on symptoms and medical history. The doctor interprets the meaning of the questions he/she asks, such as if one has had any prior conditions that might lead to heart disease (as mentioned above), or what type of substance and medicine the patient uses. Chest x-rays can help the doctor see the size of the heart and compare it to others, while an echocardiogram will allow them to see the heart’s movement and structure. Because it is a disease that becomes more common later in life, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and notify your doctor of any symptoms as soon as they occur.

There are 4 stages of heart failure: Stage A consists of people at high danger of developing heart failure due to lifestyle or ancestry of heart disease, which can be treated through better lifestyle choices such as alcohol and smoking habits, and medical treatments to fix heart/artery disease (WebMD). Stage B consists of patients that haven’t had any of those signs beforehand, and occurs with “systolic left ventricular dysfunction.” This can be treated with the same methods as Stage A, with an addition of treatment fixed towards heart-attack, as this condition commonly occurs after a heart attack. Stage C consists of patients with systolic heart failure. Finally, Stage D is the most serious, consisting of patients with systolic heart failure that has been treated but still persists (WebMD).

Often times the treatment requires changes in lifestyle choices, addressing potentially reversible factors, heart transplant, medicines, and mechanical therapies. In order to keep heart failure from progressing, it is important to keep low blood pressure, maintain fluid balance (by determining the amount that you are eating and the number of times you go to the bathroom), limit sodium intake, monitor weight, and monitor symptoms. Surgery can also be used to treat heart failure.


“Heart failure.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 23 Dec. 2017,

Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI, and Benjamin Wedro MD FACEP FAAEM. “Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms, Stages, Treatment & Life Expectancy.” MedicineNet,

“Congestive Heart Failure and Heart Disease.” WebMD, WebMD,

Naile Ruiz