The heart plays an important function in the human body. It’s the primary muscle responsible for pumping blood throughout the circulatory system. The circulatory system plays the role of carrying oxygen-rich blood to the different organs in the body, which need oxygen to be able to function efficiently.
Heart failure, also referred to as congestive heart failure, occurs when the heart fails to pump blood to all parts of the body. This can cause complications to arise like blood and fluid flowing back into the lungs, edema (or fluid retention in the limbs and other parts of the body), or shortness of breath.
For you to understand congestive heart failure better, it’s important to learn more about how the heart pumps blood throughout the body.
The heart has four chambers: two chambers on the right portion and two chambers on the left. The two chambers belonging to the upper portion of the heart are called atria (atrium when referring to only one) while the chambers located at the lower part are called ventricles.
Oxygen-poor blood from the veins is received by the right side of the heart. The heart then pumps this blood to the lungs where it picks up oxygen and gets rid of carbon dioxide accumulated from other parts of the body.
From the lungs, the newly oxygenated blood goes back to the heart, entering through the left side this time. From there, the heart pumps the oxygen-rich blood through the arteries where it makes the journey to the other organs in the body that need it.
Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart can’t keep up with all the blood that needs to be pumped throughout the body.
Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure
Heart failure can either be an ongoing condition or may start suddenly.
In the early stages of heart failure, the body may try to keep up with the body’s need for oxygenated blood by:
- Stretching to strengthen the contractions of the heart in order to meet the body’s need for blood. Over time, this may result in the enlargement of the heart which can cause many health complications like heart murmur. In some cases, an enlarged heart can cause cardiac arrest.
- Initially developing more muscle mass, or;
- Pumping faster.
These measures may help at first, but over time, the person starts experiencing symptoms of congestive heart disease.
This is because the heart can no longer provide enough oxygenated blood that the body is demanding.
The primary symptoms of heart failure are:
- Shortness of breath or dyspnea. A person who has congestive heart failure may complain of having trouble breathing or chest tightness, when they’re lying down flat on their back. This is caused by fluid leaking into the lungs because the heart’s weakened state causes blood to flow back into the veins.
- Persistent coughing or wheezing. People with congestive heart failure also complain of productive cough that bring up white or pink mucus. This is caused by fluid leaking into the lungs as well.
- Edema or build-up of excess fluid in the body’s tissues. Since the heart fails to provide blood to all parts of the body, oxygen-depleted blood backs up in the veins causing swelling, due to fluid build-up in the body’s tissues. The kidney also becomes less efficient at doing its job of disposing water and sodium in the body, causing water-retention.
- Fatigue. Congestive heart failure causes fatigue because the body’s need for blood and oxygen isn’t being met. This means that less important vital organs like muscles won’t get as much oxygen as the other organs.
- Nausea or lack of appetite. Less blood flow to the digestive organs impair the normal functions of digestion. A person developing congestive heart failure may encounter irregularities in their appetite or nausea.
- Increased heart rate. The body will try to compensate for the lack of oxygen by making the heart pump blood faster. If you’re suffering heart failure, you may notice your heart beating faster than usual.
Severe cases of congestive heart failure may lead to heart attacks or cardiac arrest. If you, or anyone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s best to seek emergency medical services when they exhibit the following:
- Chest pain
- Irregular heart beat
- Sudden shortness of breath
Congestive Heart Failure: Am I At Risk?
Typically, a person who has cardiovascular diseases or conditions will be more at risk of developing congestive heart failure.
Other risk factors include:
- Coronary artery disease – This condition can put you at greater risk of congestive heart failure because blocking the arteries might result in less blood flow to and from the heart.
- High blood pressure – High blood pressure forces the heart to exert more effort than it has to, which can result in complications like heart failure.
- Sleep apnea – Obstructive sleep apnea causes low blood oxygen levels, which can interfere with the normal functions of the heart.
- Alcohol use
- Tobacco use
Congestive Heart Failure: Prevention
Lifestyle choices and habits often contribute to a lot of the major cardiovascular diseases like heart failure. Taking steps to live a healthier life can reduce your risk of developing congestive heart failure.
Other preventive measures you can adopt are the following:
- Keeping an eye on your blood pressure by getting regular check-ups or being consistent with your medication.
- Strive for a healthier diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Try to avoid cholesterol-rich foods that may clog your arteries.
- Incorporate exercise into your daily routine to keep your heart strong.
- Try quitting harmful vices like smoking and drinking alcohol that put unnecessary strains on the heart and other organs.
Heart failure can pose consequences on a person’s overall health and wellness. It gets in the way of the body’s normal functions, and could lead to serious complications.
Taking care of the heart by making the right lifestyle choices can greatly reduce your risk of developing congestive heart failure.
If you’re experiencing any of symptoms of heart failure, it’s best to consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Learn more about heart health here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.