Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) is a chronic, abnormal condition that begins gradually when the heart muscle is damaged by disease or illness.
However, sometimes the symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure can begin suddenly.
Some types of heart disease, such as high blood pressure (hypertension) can weaken the heart muscle itself. Others can cause the heart muscle to stiffen.
And then there are some, like Congestive Heart Failure, that increase the demand for oxygen by the tissue, overloading the work of the heart muscle.
- When the heart muscle can’t keep up with the work required, 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.
The fact that this condition can affect many organs of the body, contributes to the signs and symptoms of Congestive Heart failure.
- One of the symptoms is shortness of breath which limits the person’s physical ability.
It’s due to the blood backing up in the pulmonary vein and leaking fluid into the lungs. This decreases the amount of lung tissue available to exchange oxygen.
And there’s the problem…
The human body makes energy in two basic ways:
Aerobic exercise uses oxygen and also exercises the heart and lungs. It burns fat, wards off disease and improves mood.
Anaerobic exercise relies mostly on stored glycogen (carbohydrates that form glucose (sugars) production and builds muscle strength.
- In Congestive Heart Failure, due to the decreased ability of the heart to pump oxygen, the tissues are starved for it and cannot tolerate much of an increased workload before they go into an anaerobic mode.
- People who suffer from CHF may also have persistent coughing or be wheezing from the same build-up of fluid in the lungs.
- As a result of the excess fluid in the body tissue, swelling of the feet, ankles, legs and abdomen are common symptoms, and weight gain from the extra fluid in the body is typical.
- 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 get rid of the extra salt and water which also adds to the buildup of fluid.
- The extra fluid in the lungs will also make it very uncomfortable for anyone to lay flat on their backs because they are unable to catch their breath.
People who suffer from CHF will experience fatigue or tiredness because the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body tissues.
The body, in its infinite wisdom, will divert the blood away from less vital organs,(especially from the muscles in the limbs) and send it to the heart and the brain.
- This, of course, results in a very tired feeling and difficulty with everyday activities such as climbing stairs, walking or carrying groceries.
It is not uncommon for the CHF patient to experience a lack of appetite or nausea because the digestive system is also receiving 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 a change in the levels of certain chemicals in the brain.
- It may result in memory loss and feelings of disorientation.
But the heart is a beautiful warrior.
To make up for this loss of pumping capacity, the heart will often beat faster. Unfortunately, this makes the patient feel as if they’re having palpitations and/or like the heart is racing or throbbing.
These are all symptoms of chronic congestive heart failure.
Other people who experience similar symptoms but more severely, or whose symptoms worsen suddenly may have gone into acute (sudden) 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 very important to seek the advice of your physician immediately if you experience:
- Chest pain
- Sudden fatigue and weakness
- A fast or irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- A suddenly reduced ability to exercise
- Persistent coughing or wheezing that results in pink blood-tinged phlegm
- A sudden worsening of swelling in your legs, ankles or feet
- A sudden change in your ability to concentrate.
With advancements in technology and medication, more people who suffer from Congestive Heart Failure are able to live longer lives.
However, it requires the willingness and ability of the person living with CHF to make changes to their lifestyle and take their medication as ordered.
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