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Dr. Bridget Gibson: What is congestive heart failure?

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that about 6.2 million adults in the United States experience congestive heart failure.

CHF can be a life-threatening condition, so if you’re experiencing signs and/or symptoms of CHF, please consult a doctor as soon as possible for treatment options.

About congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a chronic condition that limits your heart’s capacity to pump enough blood to deliver the oxygen and blood that your body needs.

Dr. Bridget Gibson teaser

Dr. Bridget Gibson

Simply put, this condition makes it harder for your heart to perform its tasks. Eventually, the heart tries to deliver enough blood and oxygen to the body by pumping faster, developing muscle mass and enlarging its size.

The body also tries to make up for heart failure by narrowing the blood vessels to keep the blood pressure up, as well as by diverting blood away from the brain, the heart and other essential organs like your kidneys.

Causes of congestive heart failure

Some medical conditions cause wear and tear to the heart that may also lead to congestive heart failure. These conditions include:

—Coronary artery disease


—High blood pressure


—Previous heart attack

—Severe lung disease

—Sleep apnea

—Valvular heart disease

Symptoms of congestive heart failure

The most common symptoms you may notice in the early stages of CHF include:


—Increased urination, especially at night

—Swelling in the ankles, feet and legs

—Weight gain

Some symptoms that may indicate that the CHF has worsened include:


—Rapid or irregular heartbeat

—Shortness of breath


For severe cases of CHF, you may experience the following:

—Bluish skin

—Chest pain

—Syncope, decreased alertness

—Rapid breathing

Diagnosing congestive heart failure

Based on your symptoms, your cardiologist will perform a physical exam. To examine your blood vessels, chambers and heart valves, your doctor may also recommend the following tests:

—Blood tests

—Cardiac catheterization


—Electrocardiogram (EGC or EKG)


—Stress test

Treatment options for congestive heart failure

CHF cannot be cured, but your doctor may recommend treatment options that can help you manage your symptoms, prevent your condition from getting worse and help improve the quality of your life. Managing CHF usually involves:

—Lifestyle changes

—Reducing sodium intake

—Regular exercise

—Taking diuretics (to reduce fluid in the body)

—Taking medications

—Surgeries (i.e. coronary bypass, valve replacement, heart transplant)

Final thoughts

Here are a few key ways you can prevent heart disease by managing your risk factors: stop smoking, maintain good control of diabetes and hypertension, maintain a healthy weight, eat healthy and exercise.

As mentioned, congestive heart failure can be life-threatening. If you’re seeing signs of this condition, please reach out immediately to your doctor.

Dr. Bridget Gibson is with Brookwood Baptist Health.